Should Hayward Get a Max If He’s Not The First Option?

July 11th, 2014 | by Ben Dowsett
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Well, it’s been an interesting couple days in Jazzland to say the least. Tuesday appeared to be coming to a close as one of the slowest and least newsworthy days thus far in the offseason until Charlotte beat man Rick Bonnell broke news right around midnight Eastern Time that Jazz RFA Gordon Hayward would sign a maximum offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets. The deal was officially inked yesterday, and Utah’s 72-hour window with which to match began ticking down.

To my mild frustration, many of the immediate hot takes against Utah matching the deal, as seems to frequently be the case during the rare instances where the Jazz are squarely in the national spotlight, lacked any sort of basic team context and contained a number of different totally illegitimate arguments.

Perhaps most confusing was the sentiment that this deal is right for Charlotte, but not for Utah. Not only does this view likely once again miss team context here in terms of future plans and payroll trajectory, it’s just plain wrong – the fact that Utah is likely two years away from being a contender while the Hornets appear ready to challenge for a top-four seed in a weaker East next year is in no way whatsoever a justification for such an argument, and is in fact closer to the opposite. The Jazz easily have the space to eat a small overpay plus give extensions to whichever young pieces are deserving, and remain flexible through the life of his deal given projected large increases in the cap – plus, a potential max extension for Dante Exum, should he turn out to be worthy of one, would not need to come until the year after Hayward is off the books.

But much of this has been covered in the time since by more reasonable analysts, with Grantland’s Zach Lowe and BasketballInsiders’ Nate Duncan1 both echoing most reasonable local sentiments that while the situation surely isn’t ideal, it’s a relatively standard match for the Jazz given every bit of context involved. SCH cap guru Dan Clayton also weighed in yesterday, and while his piece was centered more around explaining some cap FAQ’s after the new developments, it contained several excellent bits of analysis that roughly line up with my own thinking2.

One of the major arguments against matching the offer is that Hayward never projects to be a first option on a contender, one of the few bits from the “don’t match” camp that actually does appear to hold up to legitimate analysis given his failings in this role last season. If we assume this to be true going forward, Hayward projects as a second or third option, and the argument goes that over $15 million per year average salary is far too much to pay for a non-star player.

But is it? Given cap numbers announced officially on Wednesday, Hayward’s deal will take up roughly 23 percent of Utah’s cap sheet next season and, given fairly conservative estimates for subsequent years, should incrementally drop closer to 20 percent. I went team by team for each of the last three seasons3, marking down any team that paid over 20 percent of its available cap to any player who clearly wasn’t their first option. Keep in mind there were plenty of occasions where the actual first option on these teams made less than 20 percent of the cap, but this is a potential scenario for Utah also if Derrick Favors were to make the leap in the next couple years.

Of 90 individual team seasons, 50, or slightly over half, paid over 20 percent of that year’s salary cap to a second or third option (or in many cases to a guy who wasn’t even that). Of these 50, 33 made the playoffs, or 66 percent. 10 of the 12 conference final appearances made during this time were by teams that fit the bill, with the only exceptions being this year’s Spurs4 and the 2012 Thunder5. There were several cases of multiple non-stars making over 20 percent of the cap on the same team (the Knicks pulled it off all three years and still made the playoffs twice), and several of the teams typically paying huge money to a second or third banana (Miami, OKC, Chicago) have been some of the most successful teams in the league during this period.

Again, this data doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t account for the specifics of each team, which vary wildly. But it’s pretty darn indicative that managing such a situation, and even thriving in one, is easily doable in today’s league if over half the teams in the league are doing it and two-thirds of them are making the playoffs. This isn’t an assertion that the Jazz are in an optimal situation here; it would have of course been preferable to get Hayward for less. But guess what? This is always the case. Show me a general manager in the NBA who wouldn’t prefer to pay his best players less and save cap room for other assets, and I’ll show you a guy who’s going to be out of a job in a hurry.

Their cap sheet may be the slightest bit tighter than they’d prefer at this point in the process, but this is a no-brainer match for the Jazz. In a new system with a role more suited to his talents, Hayward can absolutely be one of the most versatile combo guards in the league. Even if he “lacks one elite skill”6 and tops out as a solid second or third option (on a squad that will run a very Spurs-ian team offense that likely won’t emphasize that sort of pecking order), league trends in the last few years have shown that paying this sort of percentage of a team’s available cap to non-superstars is easily manageable for contending and even elite teams.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and current in-depth analyst based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Basketball Insiders and BBallBreakdown, and can be heard on SCH Radio on ESPN 700 weekly. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett

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  1. Mewko says:

    I don’t think anyone should get a max deal if they’re not the first option, unless it’s a big 3 stars joining together, like the Miami big 3, the Boston big 3 (Allen, Pierce, Garnett). But I think we should keep Hayward and he will be the 2nd option behind Alec Burks this year. Eventually Dante Exum and Derrick Favors will leapfrog Hayward in scoring, and this is my speculation that means nothing, but I think Alec Burks will be traded, or else have to take a small role in the future, off the bench.

  2. cw says:

    “…the fact that Utah is likely two years away from being a contender….”


    • Ben Dowsett says:

      Yes. Hope I’m not breaking any hearts or dampening any title aspirations, but this team remains a long way from contending in an increasingly stacked West. A lottery appearance next year is all but assured given the ages and experience levels of most of the key players. With strong development in several areas the Jazz could look to compete for a playoff spot the following year, but the 2016-17 season will almost certainly be the first where they can realistically conceive of a deep playoff run or any sort of title thoughts, barring several major power moves from Dennis that are mostly far-fetched given the market and cap situation. Of course, as always, I’d love to be proven wrong here, but I find the likelihood of this very low in this case. Honestly, most objective observers on the national scene (who admittedly can of course be incorrect or off in their assessments) would probably even label this outlook as too optimistic given the ages and developmental curves to date of the roster. I’m a fan, for sure, but my job here is to remain as objective as possible and that’s what I’m shooting for.

      • cw says:

        I questioned that becasue you had them “contending” in ONLY two years. In just two years I would be very surprised if they were contending for the 8th seed. Who knows if they will ever contend for a title, which is what I think people usually mean when they say contending. Anyway, sorry you had to write all that for nothing. I should have explained myself better.

        • Aaron says:

          The West is insanely good and has been for a long time. At some point, it will end, just like the NFC’s dominance. Dallas and San Antonio are nearing the end of their run, Memphis looks like they’re running out of gas, and there are always teams that combust and blow it all up. We don’t know if it will be Golden State, Houston, or the Clippers, but I think two years is entirely possible with this group and Dennis Lindsey.

      • Mewko says:

        I’ll be happy if the Jazz just finish 17th in 2016-17. 47 wins, better than 3 playoff teams in the East, but 9th in the west. In 2016-17 Exum should be warming up for a monster season in 2017-18, and (gasp) make a run for MVP, if not, M.I.P (most improved player).

  3. LKA says:

    Hornets are always the team “Close but no cigar.” Don’t think they ever will be. As good as MJ was as a player he is on the opposite end in brains to own a team.. Let’s face it the Jazz are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA.. For those that don’t know who Rodney Dangerfield is ask grandpa..

  4. Ashley Edwards says:

    Right now Hayward is their first option so why shouldn’t he get paid? I look at it like this, if somebody more deserving was there than no max for Hayward but there isn’t. I guess if tell a guy like Hayward, look bud, we all know your not the best but we want you on the team. I get it, your not happy here because we suck, but let me pad your wallet now and buy a few years and when this contract comes due again, if where we hope to be, you may need to take a little less then but for now, enjoy it. We all know he’s got Utah’s back against the wall so why make it worse by saying he’s not worth it. Bring him back, butter his biscuit, and then when you’ve got some options cut him loose. I’m hoping a few plus in the win column and being a part of something from seedling stage will open up the bigger picture for him. As for me, I’m here with open arms Hayward. The rest of jazz nation should act the same because he’s coming going to be with us another 3 yr at least.

    • Aaron says:

      Exactly, Ashley! Hayward rolled the dice and won big-time. Word is that his representation was asking for another million or so per year, and the way the market went this year, he was in high demand. He’s not Larry Bird and he probably never will be, but he has a unique skill set and the Jazz weren’t going to get much better productivity using the money they’re required to spend. Plus, I really doubt that contract will ever be an albatross like AK’s became. Unless he suffers a major injury, I think you can always make a trade if you desire to do so. Hopefully with his situation resolved, he improves his play this year.

      • cw says:

        “He’s not Larry Bird and he probably never will be….”

        I like how you put that “probably” in there like there was actually some chance of GH becoming Larry Bird-like. It’s funny because Larry Bird was the most cold-blooded basketball assassin every and GH is the LEAST cold-blooded basketball assassin ever. It’s like, ironic or something.

  5. Pingback: A Dissenting Opinion on Gordon Hayward’s Max Contract | Salt City Hoops

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