Hayward Watch Part III: Utah’s Case Revolves around Gobert & the Teams’s Progress

June 1st, 2017 | by Dan Clayton

David Sherman via Utahjazz.com

The summer of nerves continues for Jazz fans, who feel a jolt of anxiety every time someone utters the word “Boston” anywhere near Gordon Hayward’s name. In roughly a month, the Jazz star’s immediate future will be clearer, but that’s going to make June feel awfully long across the Wasatch Front.

We already looked at the teams in both the West and the East that could feasibly make a play for Hayward when he inevitably opts out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and nearly double his salary. But there’s one team whose case we haven’t made yet: his.

The Utah Jazz have quite a bit going for them in their bid to re-sign the first-time All-Star. And hey, GM Dennis Lindsey is a busy man, so let’s help the man out a little. Here are the bullet points that the club’s basketball boss should be armed with when he meets with Hayward at the beginning of next month. We’ll examine their potential pitch and selling point, starting with the one that towers above all others — 2.16 meters above the others, in fact.

Play alongside a singular star

There are a few things that no other team can offer Hayward: more money, a five-year contract, mountain views and easy access to Crown Burger. But there’s some bigger thing that no other team can offer Hayward, and it has to do with the number 27.

No matter where Hayward winds up, he’ll have other stars to help him on his quest for jewelry. But teams like Boston, Indiana and Miami can’t offer him a chance to play with someone quite like Rudy Gobert.

Hayward has spoken at length this season about the way his All-NBA teammate defines the team’s identity and makes everybody’s jobs easier. Utah’s defensive scheme revolves around aggressiveness at the point of attack – something the Jazz can get away with because of the giant safety net behind perimeter defenders. It allows the Jazz to defend well against a modern NBA where the threat of three-point offense has proliferated to all-time levels. It’s easy to ignore the impact of Gobert – an elite paint protector – on the perimeter, but the reality is that his presence allows guys like Hayward to play peskier defense. Hayward’s defensive reputation has consequently grown, part of the résumé that propelled him to the All-Star game.

But Rudy’s more than a big body who can intimidate drivers. He’s also an elite rim diver, an enormous pick-and-roll target for Hayward and others because of his 9’7” standing reach, surprising agility in traffic, and improving handle. Every opposing coach cooks up a unique approach to defending the Jazz, but Rudy’s prowess as a catch-and-stuff specialist has spooked a lot of Jazz opponents into playing way back on his rolls, or even bringing help from the corners. That gives Utah’s ball-handlers and floor-spacers a lot of opportunities to pull up behind a screen or let one fly off the catch. So Rudy is no longer just a player who’s making things easier for his teammates on defense. He and Hayward have become a symbiotic tandem on offense; scheme for one of them in pick-and-roll scenarios and the other can cause you pain1.

Gobert is also fiery and fierce, a pathological competitor who hates settling for anything less than excellence. It would be unfair to Hayward, Derrick Favors and even coach Quin Snyder to say that Gobert has created a winning culture in Utah, but he has certainly helped magnify it by demanding a lot from himself and others and by sharing some of the burden of vocal leadership.

Bottom line: Gobert is just unique. Other potential Hayward suitors can also point to their own star players, in some cases even all-league talent like Gobert. But there are other guys who play in the Isaiah Thomas mold. Paul George is potentially a great player, and Goran Dragic is an underrated playmaker, but neither guy broke the mold.

There’s nobody quite like Rudy Gobert, though, and the Jazz will surely remind Hayward of that as they lay out their case.

Be the main guy on a 50-win team

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of teams that could make a run at Hayward: teams who could offer him the chance to be the main guy on a team that’s building toward relevance, and teams who are already very good and would like Hayward to complement their existing star core.

Neither is a bad option, but the Jazz are in a unique position to offer him a role as THE guy on a team that’s already an elite squad.

If Hayward were to land in Miami or Phoenix, he would likely assume the star mantle, but find himself taking a backward step in terms of the process of creating a contender. He has already gone through the laborious steps of climbing from one of the worst records in the league (in 2013-14) to fringe contention. Why start that over, or join some other project that’s in progress?

Conversely, he could be another piece on a top-10 team. If he joined San Antonio, he wouldn’t even be the best player at his position, and either Kawhi Leonard or he would have to play some unnatural minutes to play together. In Boston, there would be instant intrigue as to whether the team was Hayward’s or Thomas’ domain2, and that’s without taking into account veteran star Al Horford and the steady flow of lottery picks that could eventually challenge the pecking order.

Hayward seems like the type of guy who aspires to greatness, to a legacy. Granted, that’s an oversimplification: it’s not that linear, and I don’t pretend to know his psychology when it comes to valuing help over star status. But why choose? If he stays in Utah, he’s going to be regarded as a (the?) primary author of the Jazz’s success. If Utah takes another mini-leap next season and wins 55 games or so, then Hayward is both the main protagonist AND in an elite situation. And 55 is doable.

Which leads us to…

Utah is better than its record

Consider that Utah scored 51 wins and the fifth-best net rating in the NBA last season. Now consider that Favors was never right, starting guard George Hill missed 33 games, Rodney Hood struggled with knee problems all year, and the Jazz only played four games all year where all of their players were fully available. A fully healthy Jazz wins more than 51, no doubt.

OK, you can’t count hypothetical wins, but some metrics conclude that the Jazz lost as many as nine wins to injury last season. So as Hayward considers the current baseline as a point of departure for launching into legit contention, it’s important that he recognize: his Jazz are not a 51-win team.

Chance to finish as an all-time franchise great

Rhetorical question: where does Hayward rank right now on the list of all-time Jazz men? Certainly behind John Stockton and Karl Malone. After that? Adrian Dantley had a better peak, but left on somewhat acrimonious terms in the middle of his career. Pistol Pete was one-of-a-kind and fun as hell, although he barely played in the franchise’s Utah days. Jeff Hornacek and Mark Eaton were complementary players, albeit great ones. The more modern iteration of the Jazz produced four All-Stars – Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur – but Hayward has already matched the Jazz longevity of all but AK.

In other words, we’re starting to get to a point where you can make an argument for Hayward in the top five, four, maybe even three – and he’s just seven seasons in. His all-time franchise ranks say it’s not crazy. He’s already in the top 10 in minutes (10th), scoring (8th), assists (8th), three-pointers (2nd), steals (9th) and career win shares (10th). If he signed another four or five year deal with the Jazz, he’d probably finish that stretch in the top five across the board, including No. 3 in all-time Jazz points.

Does that matter to Hayward? We can only guess. But we’re talking about statue territory there.

Snyder and the staff

Since Hayward’s relationship with Celtics coach Brad Stevens is constantly referenced by the punditry, it’s only fair to mention: he also seems to really love working and developing under Snyder. There is a ton of mutual respect there, as evidenced by Hayward’s whole tone whenever he’s asked to speak about what his relationship with the coach has done for him.

And it’s not just the head guy, either. Hayward credits the rest of the staff for his ascent to stardom, and rightfully so. Early summer mornings, targeted offseason plans and countless individual skill sessions have helped turn a scrawny kid from Brownsburg into a top-20 NBA player. Hayward deserves the lion’s share of the credit for putting the work in, but the fact that he recognizes and values how Utah’s developmental culture has allowed him to unleash his greatness can’t hurt the Jazz’s case.

Playing for fans who love him

Hayward seemed sincerely touched, almost giddy, at the love shown by fans behind the unique, fan-driven “Stayward” campaign. Sure, he’ll be appreciated by fans no matter where he plays, but it’s different in Utah. These fans watched Hayward grow up. They were there for the 2010 arrival of a gawky but promising kid who needed his parents’ help to buy toilet paper, and they’ve witnessed every step of the transformation since. There’s something almost propriety or parental about the way fans view their guy.

And he feels that love.

OK, let’s talk about money

Money probably won’t be a driving factor, but Lindsey would be negligent not to remind Hayward that he can get a far bigger payday from the Miller family trust than from any other ownership group.

Utah can offer the same $30.3 million3 starting salary as any team, but they can offer raises in yearly increments of $2.4 million instead of $1.5 million. They can also offer an extra year, meaning he could get $175 million in guaranteed money from Utah. The most any other team could guarantee is around $130 million.

Hayward may not want the five-year deal; he may choose to bet on his chances of making All-NBA and becoming eligible for a higher salary sooner. But if he wants security, and the greatest amount of guaranteed salary, that’s a selling point for Utah.

A unique market

No, Salt Lake City is not Los Angeles, New York or Miami.

At the same time, it’s not L.A., New York or Miami. That’s not exactly a drawback. There’s something to be said for the simplicity, convenience and laid-back demeanor of the Beehive4. Instead of sitting on SoCal’s Interstate 5 or fighting traffic over the Manhattan Bridge, Jazz players can get to practice from just about anywhere in the valley in about 15 minutes. Then, after practicing at a newly remodeled facility that’s supposedly going to have the league’s preeminent development capabilities, they can go home to their comfortable homes in with giant yards and picturesque mountain views.

Are there facets in which bigger, sexier markets beat out SLC? Sure, easily. But Jazz country has its advantages, too, not the least of which is an elevation that provides a solid advantage to home teams.

The only .600+ team that can offer the max without raiding its core

We talked about this in the first two parts of this series, but only X teams can easily get to $30.3 million in cap space without swinging trades or letting stars leave in free agency. X of those teams are in the lower third of the league in win percentage, and the other X are in the middle of the pack. Literally no other top-10 team can do it without some maneuvering and sacrifices.

Boston would have to let a number of rotation players walk in free agency, plus still make at least one move involving either Jae Crowder or (more likely) Avery Bradley. Doesn’t a thinning of their rotational core make them slightly less attractive? San Antontio can’t get there unless Manu Ginobili retires, Dewayne Dedmon and Patty Mills walk, they give away Danny Green for nothing… and even then, they likely have to dump either Pau Gasol or – if they really decide to shift directions – LaMarcus Aldridge. The Clippers can’t sniff max cap room without at least one – and maybe both – of their main guys leaving.

You built this

Perhaps the most emotionally compelling argument that the Jazz brass can make is that this isn’t the Jazz’s project that he’s a part of – it’s as much his as anybody’s. Largely on the basis of his improvement, the team has been able to climb back to relevance. He’s lived every step of that journey. Why stop now?

I enjoy hiking, and when I was a teenager I did a lot of backpacking trips with friends and scout groups. On one trip, we were within a few hundred feet of the summit of Lamotte Peak in the Uintah range, Utah’s third-highest point. The journey there was beautiful but arduous, so a few guys from our group deciding that they didn’t have the energy to traverse a somewhat treacherous-looking snowy ridge. They decided they got close enough, and turned back. My scout leaders insisted that, rather than let these teenagers barrel down the mountain unsupervised, we all had to follow suit. I made 99% of the gorgeous, challenging trip to the summit, but to this day I’ve never crossed that final icy portion.

Right now, Hayward is standing where I stood on Lamotte Peak. He has climbed all this way with the Jazz – why turn around and abandon the journey?! Sure, free agency could plop him on some other mountain, maybe even close to the top. But the only way to complete this journey is to complete this journey. If he turns back now, he’ll always wonder what those last few steps could have been like.

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

2 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Where are the footnotes?

  2. Spencer says:

    A lot of great points. Like many Boston is the only team that really gets me worried. But a player-by player comparison right now seems to favor the Jazz looking at how rosters should be next season. With the caveat that Boston has two potential home run picks coming.

    Here is my comparison:
    Gobert-Harford. No comparison Gobert in a landslide. He is way better now and ten years younger. Also a better complementary player to Gordon.

    PF- both teams stink this year there but I really like Favors/Lyles/Bolomboy. I know Favors has a good chance of being gone. My answer- sign and trade with Atlanta favors and Burks for Millsap. In THAT scenario landslide us.

    SF- whichever team Hayward is on wins easy here.

    SG- if Hayward is in Boston there is no Bradley so let’s put Isiah here. He can score like crazy but I don’t think Hayward is fooled by a player that only plays the fun half of the court. If they can swing a trade for butler or George using Thomas and anyone else…we are toast here. If not I’ll take the potential/length/defense of a Healthy Hood with Exum and Ingles as wild cards that match the Boston trio of Brown/Crawford/Smart etc. on second thought maybe I like the Boston bunch. They are all scrappy and defend. Yeah Boston wins the complementary wing position because of toughness and defense. Even if they can’t shoot much.

    PG- this is a case of taking Hill’s steadiness and experience with Exums potential or Fultz and his potential to be a Lilliard/Westbrook hybrid.
    That is a tough one today. In three years it may be laughably one sided.

    Future potential:
    Boston wins on the pick front.
    Utah wins on the roster today
    Boston wins on change to add free agents.

    Yup I’m worried.

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