Latest Hayward Chatter Creates a Conundrum

June 29th, 2017 | by Ken Clayton

Brent Asay via utahjazz.com

The advent of the free agency period is usually brings excitement. But this offseason, Jazz fans are experiencing more trepidation than anticipation, thanks to Jazzman (for now) Gordon Hayward’s free agency. Thursday afternoon he finally did what everyone expected, informing the Jazz that he will indeed opt out of his contract to become a free agent. Meetings with Miami, Boston and Utah are scheduled over the first three days of July. Come the Fourth of July, will Jazz Nation celebrate the United States’ 241st birthday and Hayward’s return, or will Gordon declare his independence from the team that drafted him?

The Jazz’s future has probably never rested in the hands of the team’s own star free agent as much as it does this offseason. Deron Williams never became a free agent and left Salt Lake City via trade. Carlos Boozer left via free agency, but many fans had tired of him1 by then. Karl Malone seldom became a free agent, usually opting to extend his deal prior to that2, and by the time he actually left Utah, the team had declined. John Stockton’s forays into free agency made fans about as nervous as they would have been watching Mr. Rogers shop for cardigans.

Hayward is a rarity for the Jazz: a newly minted All-Star who just this season led the Jazz past the magical 50-win threshold, and who could help them advance further. He’s entering his peak years, and the Jazz still hope to climb higher with him. If he stays, the promise of the future remains with him. If he leaves, it will clearly be a setback.

Like those of us with salaries measured in thousands instead of millions, players want to get paid, and Hayward is no different. In the next few days, he will get at least three offers with a starting salary of roughly $29.7 million. Only the number of years and the size of the raises will differ. Based on his talent, development, and the current pay structure in the NBA, he deserves every penny.

But tweets like these reveal the conundrum that is free agency:

Summing up: in addition to getting paid, Hayward also wants to win now. He wants to be surrounded by more talent as soon as possible. Hayward reportedly hopes that George Hill is re-signed. And while I don’t believe the third tweet is completely accurate3, other pastures might look greener depending on how negotiations proceed with Hill and Joe Ingles.

So the question is this: can all these goals be achieved in Utah?

Hayward can get paid. But can the Jazz also re-sign Hill and Ingles and add more talent at the same time? The magic 8 ball says “Reply hazy ask again later.”

If the Jazz sign Hayward, Hill (let’s use a $20M figure) and Ingles ($10M), team salary will be roughly $17 million over the luxury tax line. Not the salary cap, the luxury tax.(3) The Jazz can find relief by releasing or trading Boris Diaw, or by trading Alec Burks without receiving players in return. In fact, giving up those both players with no salary returning would take the Jazz out of luxury tax territory – barely.

But where’s the improvement, the additional talent Gordon Hayward wants to see if he’s to sign?

Rookies? Donovan Mitchell, Tony Bradley, and Nigel Williams-Goss probably don’t figure too prominently in Hayward’s mind, although hopefully at least Mitchell can work himself into the rotation this season.

Expiring cap space? The Jazz have a ton of cap space expiring June 30, but using that space only adds to the tax figures above (unless an acquisition makes signing Hill or Ingles unnecessary), so this must be used with caution.

Free agency? At 10:00 pm MDT Friday night, the Jazz are once again an over-the-cap team (and probably over-the-apron pending other moves). Free agent acquisitions are limited to the one of the Mid-Level Exceptions and the Bi-Annual Exception, so please resist the urge to suggest signing Jrue Holliday, Paul Millsap, or other above average players unless Hayward and Hill both depart4.

Trades? The Jazz have eight tradeable players (I’m not counting Rudy Gobert) and several presumably middling draft picks in upcoming years. There will be opportunities here, but the Jazz will have to carefully weigh the cost of both the trade itself and the long-term salary implications.

There are combinations that would work, but they are reliant on free agents or trade partners agreeing. It looked so easy last summer, when a certain 73-win team easily jettisoned unneeded players, enticed Kevin Durant to join them, then added a rotation player in Javale McGee late in the game. Needless to say, that doesn’t always happen. Free agents and trade partners don’t always say yes, and the Warriors were a historically good team in a better cap position than the Jazz are now.

We’ve heard that the Jazz will pay the luxury tax for the right team, but it would be difficult to move $17 million into the tax to bring back essentially the same team unless the Jazz brain trust once again tries to sell the concept of improvement from within. Would Hayward buy it?

Probably not, so assuming the latest chatter is accurate, the Jazz have their marching orders: add some external talent, re-sign Hill & Ingles, and pay Hayward.

Easier said than paid for.

Ken Clayton

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