Hayward Watch Part II: Threats in the West

May 19th, 2017 | by Dan Clayton

Melissa Majchrzak via utahjazz.com

In case our readers weren’t nervous enough about the potential Gordon Hayward suitors in the Eastern Conference, today we continue to the other half of the league.

Hayward is expected to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and we’re looking at the relative threat each team poses as a potential poacher of All-Star talent.  Yesterday we looked at who has a shot from the east — pay particular attention to the Boston and Indiana entries — and today we march on through the rest of the NBA.

Dallas Mavericks

Cap situation: In the most extreme of cases, they could get to around $34 million, but that’s only the case if Dirk Nowitzki retired ($5 million guaranteed of $25M total), they don’t sign the recently acquired Nerlens Noel, and they waive all of the non-guaranteed guys, including rotation guys Devin Harris and Yogi Ferrell. So… they’re not doing all of those things. More likely, they’ll have a tiny bit of cap space if Dirk retires and be an exception team if he keeps going.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: Mark Cuban has historically been able to get in the room with top free agents regardless of where his team sits in the power structure. And if Dirk really is stepping away, it wouldn’t be that hard for the Mavs to clear a $30.3 million salary slot to accommodate Hayward’s first-year max salary. Find a taker for Dwight Powell, and waive late addition Jared Uthoff and the Mavs are just about there.

Why they shouldn’t: The Mavs were a 33-win team last year, and they only have room to go after Hayward if their Hall-of-Famer is leaving the NBA. That doesn’t seem like a situation that would greatly interest a player who has said that winning will be his top priority. If Nowitzki retires, the core the Mavs would have to sell a free agent on would be Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, (maybe) Nerlens Noel and whoever they draft with the ninth pick. Is that enough to build a winner?

Threat level assessment: Can’t ever look past these guys, but it feels like a tough sell.

Denver Nuggets

Cap situation: They’ll have real cap space, particularly if Danilo Gallinari opts out as expected. They pretty much have to pay Mason Plumlee after trading Jusuf Nurkic for him, but they can wait to do that until after they do what they’re going to do, because his cap hold only eats up $5.8 million. They’re also a rumored possible destination for Kyle Lowry, who would use up all of their cap space if he signed.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: From a money perspective, the Nuggets are one of very few teams who can come to Hayward on July 1 with a full max offer that’s not contingent upon them dumping salary first. They’re also a team on the rise, with some interesting young pieces that include the best passing big man in the game (Nikola Jokic). But…

Why they shouldn’t: The Nuggets right now are essentially where the Jazz were after the 2015-16 season: they’re getting better and starting to suss out who their real core is, but their still waiting for it all to congeal, and they just missed the playoffs. Would Hayward want to take a take step back in the process, when he could get the same money from teams who are further along on the road to contention?

Threat level assessment: Keep an eye on them, but there are definitely bigger threats out there.

Golden State Warriors

Cap situation: Could have upwards of $60M in raw space (less cap holds), but they will most likely use it to re-up with stars Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. They also have three other expiring rotation players who made more than the minimum last season, starting with 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: Playing with these guys would be fun, right?

Why they shouldn’t: Unless one of Curry or Durant bolts, this is a non-starter. And why would either of those guys take off? They’re overwhelming title favorites and have been blowing through their Western Conference playoff opponents. This superteam isn’t likely to break up any time soon.

Threat level assessment: Their money is spoken for.

Houston Rockets

Cap situation: Just their 10 guaranteed guys put them within $13M of the salary cap. Depending on how badly they want to keep Nene, they’ll either go into the offseason with $13M of space and the $4.3M room mid-level exception, or they’ll keep Nene’s rights intact and have just the $8.4M MLE and the $3.3M BAE to spend, but be able to keep their non-guaranteed guys. But they can’t open a max slot without dumping $17M+ in salary.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: Playing for a high-pace team could bolster Hayward’s stats.

Why they shouldn’t: I don’t see a lot of reasons to worry here. It’s not really feasible for them, plus I’m not sure Hayward would want to play in a completely different type of offensive and defensive system. If Houston were better, maybe, but the Jazz were virtually as good by some macro measurements.

Threat level assessment: Houston, we probably don’t have a problem.

L.A. Clippers

Cap situation: So much is in flux for the Clips. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Marreese Speights and Luc Mbah a Moute can all opt out, and JJ Redick is reportedly leaning toward leaving via free agency. Depending on how all those things play out, the Clips could be a tax-paying team that never sniffs a single cent of cap room… or they could have $40M in room, but very little talent.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: Hayward’s nice place in Santa Barbara is only a two-hour drive from the Staples Center. And Doc Rivers has a well-documented “man crush” on the star forward.

Why they shouldn’t: But the only way this could happen is if both Paul and Griffin left, and at that point I’m not sure why the basketball situation is at all interesting to Hayward. Technically if one of the two stars left, the Clippers could pitch Hayward and then try to engage the Jazz in a sign-and-trade, but a) they don’t really have a lot of stuff the Jazz would want, and b) S&T is only legal under the apron, and it would be tough for them to stay under $127 million in total salary with Hayward, DeAndre Jordan and one of the Griffin/Paul duo. Plus there’s the fact that he just beat them.

Threat level assessment: Not gonna work.

Los Angeles Lakers

Cap situation: They won’t have quite a max salary slot, but could create one by trading on of their veterans into cap space.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: If Hayward were interested in being part of another rebuild, the Lakers’ project at least has a bunch of pieces in place. Their young core includes Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and the second pick in the upcoming draft. They’d likely have to part with at least one of those guys (Clarkson?) to create a max slot, but they have a few different guys who could wind up being good.

Why they shouldn’t: That said, it doesn’t sound as though Hayward is interested in playing with a bunch of guys who could wind up being good. These guys didn’t make it to 30 wins last year, and their key addition will likely be a 19-year-old.

Threat level assessment: Nowhere near good enough.

Memphis Grizzlies

Cap situation: Just their three highest-paid guys — Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Chandler Parsons — put them past the threshold of having max space available. These guys will almost surely operate as an exceptions team.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: Conley and Gasol would be awesome guys to play with: talented, selfless, great teammates, focused on the right things.

Why they shouldn’t: There’s just no real way of making it happen, unless some other team wants to take Chandler Parsons for free and has the cap space to absorb him.

Threat level assessment: Can’t afford him.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Cap situation: They can easily get to about $20M (let Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Hill walk), so getting to a max slot would really just require one additional move. Unloading Gorgui Dieng or Ricky Rubio, for example.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: Minny does have some special talent, starting with Karl-Anthony Towns, who already looks the part of future perennial MVP candidate. Add the right veteran and this team could be 2-3 years away from looking scary.

Why they shouldn’t: This was the year the Timberpuppies were supposed to start looking like Wolves, but they never really got there. They won 31 games, and they were looking up at .500 all season long. They had two nice stretches (8-3 in January, then a 9-4 starting in mid February), but mostly still look a ways off from competing.

Threat level assessment: Only a threat if Hayward really takes the long view and is willing to wait around.

New Orleans Pelicans

Cap situation: Will only have cap space if they let Jrue Holiday walk, and even then, it won’t be enough for a max slot. (About $14M is the best they can create without making deals.)

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: If you ignore all the headaches associated with DeMarcus Cousins, a Hayward-Boogie-Anthony Davis trio would probably be the best frontcourt in the league.

Why they shouldn’t: But you can’t ignore the headaches. I don’t pretend to know how Hayward personally feels about Boogie, but every indication I’ve gathered is that the Jazz are one of those teams that regard him as fairly radioactive. If Hayward shares that viewpoint, it’s hard to imagine him hitching his cart to that set of horses, especially since the Pels would have to first send Jrue and at least a couple other guys packing.

Threat level assessment: Probably nothing there.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Cap situation: They’re at the cap after paying just their top six earners. Even if they let everybody go that they can, they’re still $10M over the cap.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: I’m trying to come up with something, and I can’t.

Why they shouldn’t: Aside from the fact that there’s no way OKC could afford him, that would be such a reversal in playing style for Hayward. Also, tornadoes.

Threat level assessment: Like many of Russell Westbrook’s fashion choices, it just doesn’t work.

Phoenix Suns

Cap situation: They can get to a max slot just by letting their FAs and non-guaranteed guys walk. They also have some tradeable pieces.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: Warm weather and Earl Watson. And, depending on how you feel about these guys, a core of Hayward, Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Dragan Bender and the fourth pick could get interesting at some point.

Why they shouldn’t: The Suns had the worst record in the Western Conference and are likely years away from competing for anything meaningful.

Threat level assessment: The Suns are apparently interested, but the feeling is likely not mutual.

Portland Trail Blazers

Cap situation: Here’s another team that has already blown its stack. They have virtually zero chance of creating cap space, and based on just their guaranteed salaries, they’re well into the tax.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: The chance to appear on IFC’s Portlandia.

Why they shouldn’t: It just can’t happen.

Threat level assessment: Out of skrillah.

Sacramento Kings

Cap situation: The positive side of having very little in the way of top-tier talent is that the Kings should have loads of cap space, especially after Rudy Gay walks away. They can clear another $17M by waiving Arron Afflalo and Anthony Tolliver.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: They have a nice new arena.

Why they shouldn’t: It’s unclear why anybody would want to be a part of this mess right now. Not only is their on-court situation bleak, but their management team has given the basketball community plenty of reasons to doubt and even snicker in the recent past. This once-elite club has to do quite a bit to get back to a point where legit stars will consider them an option.

Threat level assessment: I predict they won’t even get a meeting, despite having more cap space than almost anybody.

San Antonio Spurs

Cap situation: Even if Pau Gasol, Dewayne Dedmon and David Lee all opt out, the Spurs can’t quite get to a max slot without making moves.

Why Jazz fans should be afraid: You can’t ever really count the Spurs out. They could talk Tony Parker into a buyout if he’s really done, or they could trade Danny Green. If they did either of those, I’m pretty sure Hayward would listen. This franchise just has too much cachet to every be overlooked. Remember, they didn’t have cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge when they started talking to him, either. Players just respect what Pop & company stand for.

Why they shouldn’t: Hayward and Kawhi Leonard are a bit positionally duplicative. The Spurs could certainly figure that out (both guys can play some big-ball SG or some small-ball 4), but their higher priority might be figuring out the point guard spot, especially if free agent Patty Mills leaves and if Tony Parker’s injury situation is bad.

Threat level assessment: Never, ever look past the Spurs. Along with Boston and Utah, the Spurs are the only other elite team that can feasibly offer Hayward his max.

Utah Jazz

Oh yeah, there’s one more team in the Western Conference we haven’t talked about, a club that also has a really good chance of signing Hayward.

We’ll be back soon to lay out the case for Utah.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

3 Comments

  1. John Jenkins says:

    So the only team in the wast that may fit the bill is the Spurs. Always a problem, but there is Kawhi in Hayward’s spot. Who is the point guard going forward? Playing for Popovich could very well have a draw, but the Jazz with Hill are nearly there.

  2. Brent says:

    Hayward’s nice place in Santa Barbara is actually in Rancho Santa Fe (a nice suburb of San Diego). They are about 4-5 hours apart from each other but either way it would be virtually impossible for him to live there and commute to to play in LA.
    The drive is at least 2 hours each way without traffic, which never happens in SoCal. It’s probably more like 3 hours there and 3 hours back. That would cut into his video game time ;)
    Jazz fans make way too much out Hayward’s house in Rancho Santa Fe. It’s just a nice place for wealthy people to live where the weather is nice. No LA based athletes live there. It’s just too far.

  3. Pingback: Hayward Watch Part III: Utah’s Case Revolves around Gobert & the Teams’s Progress | Salt City Hoops

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