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Gordon Hayward’s Restricted Free Agency: Going Somewhere?

Hayward ho, where will he go?

The Jazz were every bit as bad as they were projected to be in 2014, but Gordon Hayward just continued to steadily improve, contributing 16.2 points, 5.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 36.4 minutes per game.

He did average a career-high 2.8 turnovers and shot career-lows from the field (41.3 percent) and downtown (30.4 percent), but this was more a result of Hayward having to be the first option on an offensively challenged squad struggling combat the losses of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.

During Hayward’s career, the former Bulldog and ninth overall pick of 2010 has posted modest career marks of 12.0 points (43.6 field goal percentage, 36.5 three point percentage, 81.3 free throw percentage), 3.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.8 turnovers in 28.3 minutes per game, but he’s elevated his level of play in each of his four seasons in the NBA while missing only 25 games.

The Lottery Mafia’s Joe Atmonavage wrote about what the hiring of coach Quin Snyder as Tyrone Corbin’s replacement means for the Jazz, and highlighted how crucial re-signing Hayward is going to be for Snyder’s ability to replicate the immediate competitiveness we saw from first-year coach Jeff Horancek, whose Suns won 48 games in the wild west.

Early indications from Utah are the team expects to re-sign Hayward this offseason, but there will undoubtedly be plenty of teams looking to woo the 6-8, 220-pound 24-year-old with a big contract offer.

Michael Jordan has already stated Charlotte’s intention to make another splash in free agency this summer, Boston’s Brad Stevens coached the Hayward-led Butler team that advanced to the 2010 NCAA Championship game versus Duke, the Lakers are downright desperate to add young promising talent, and the Bulls better be looking to add perimeter shooting.

These are just a few teams that could elect to extend an offer sheet to one of the brightest young wings in basketball. He hasn’t established himself as a defensive stopper in the league, but with his size, versatility and high basketball IQ, there are reasons to be optimistic he’ll progress on defense and develop into an interchangeable player capable of playing both the SG and SF positions.

It’s entirely possible the Jazz will be wheelers and dealers in this month’s draft, but my gut feeling is that they won’t be involved in any blockbuster deals on draft-day. Instead, I believe they’ll select Noah Vonleh No. 5 overall, as TLM founder and draft expert James Plowright details in his latest NBA Mock Draft, and make re-signing Hayward their top offseason priority.

Given the projected salary cap for 2014-15, the Jazz can offer more money and years than any other team. While other teams would be allowed to offer Hayward a maximum deal of four years, $58.5 million, the Jazz ultimately have the right to match anyone’s offer. In the past, restricted free agents’ suitors have often chosen not to bother making an offer for a RFA they believe will be matched regardless. Still, given that it seems unlikely Hayward will ever be the best player on a championship-caliber club, it’s possible Utah is unsure about committing $60 million to Hayward when they just signed Derrick Favors to a four year, $49 million deal likely to reach $50 million or more via performance incentives.

In order to further evaluate what Hayward is likely to earn and where he’s likely to end up, I’ve analyzed his potential positional competition in free agency and some possible suitors who could throw big dough at him. While Hayward has primarily played shooting guard due to the preferable proclivity of interchangeability between shooting guard and small forward in the NBA, I’ve included all wing players in Hayward’s echelon who are likely to help determine what he ends up earning this summer in restricted free agency.

Potential Free Agent Wing Competition

LeBron James—Even if the game’s best player does shock the world and opt out of the final year of his deal, I can’t see LBJ deciding to leave Miami for anywhere besides Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony—If he does opt out and decide to leave New York, the 30-year-old scoring machine will be highly sought after, but his list of teams he’ll be willing to play for is much shorter.

Chandler Parsons—Much has been made about Houston’s decision to decline his option, but this was merely done in order to avoid seeing their second-round steal from Florida become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Parsons is coming off of a stellar season, averaging 16.6 points (47.2 FG, 37.0 3-Pt FG, 74.2 FT percentages), 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.9 turnovers per game.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey would love to get his hands on Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony, but that’s probably not in the cards, meaning they’re probably prepared to match offers and retain Parsons, who turns 26 in October. In comparison to Hayward, Parsons is unquestionably a better defender and more explosive in terms of sheer athleticism, but offensively I’d give Hayward the slight edge due to his superior ability to create opportunities for himself and others.

Luol Deng—The two-time All-Star has had his share of injury troubles, but the 29-year-old small forward is still likely to sign one more multi-year deal making around $10 million per season, and it’s likely he’ll want to join a team that has a chance to be competitive immediately.

Lance Stephenson—Stephenson turns 24 in September and is an unrestricted free agent this summer. He is a vastly superior defender to Hayward, and was a borderline All-Star this season, but concerns regarding his character could prevent some teams from calling.

Still, he’s likely to receive interest from multiple teams in free agency because of his tremendous upside, and the fact that the Pacers won’t realistically be able to pay him any more than $10 million per year.

Rudy Gay—I highly doubt he’s about to decline his $19.3 million player option for 2014-15. He turns 28 this summer, so it’s possible he’s itching for long-term security, but if he turns that down he’d be lucky to earn that much over the next two years given the depth of wing talent available this summer.

Dwyane Wade—Even in the unlikely event that LeBron leaves, I can hardly picture the 11-year Miami veteran who turns 33 in January leaving South Beach.

Who Might Be Able to Steal Hayward Away From Utah

Boston—The Celtics have their hearts set on Kevin Love, but it doesn’t seem likely the Wolves have a lot interest in swapping him for a package featuring the No. 6 overall pick and a sizable trade exception. Hayward represents a much more realistic summer 2014 splash, and I won’t be the least bit surprised if the C’s look to pair Hayward with Rondo in the backcourt and reunite him with Brad Stevens.

Charlotte—The Hornets are set to have some legitimate cap space this summer, and Captain Marvel has made it clear he’s ready to add another star to the team after signing Al Jefferson for 3 years, $41 million last summer. Hayward and Jefferson played together for two years in Utah, and it’s no secret that Charlotte currently lacks the shooters to take the necessary pressure off of Big Al’s shoulders and facilitate his ability to stay healthy and dominate down low on O.

Jordan would surely rather sign Carmelo (though I’m not sure Carmelo feels the same way), and as TLM’s Robert Judin pointed out, there’s a possibility Jordan prefers Parsons. Plus Stephenson and Deng are unrestricted free agents who might be available for cheaper. The Hornets also select ninth, 24th and 45th in 2014, so it’s possible they’ll look to address their need for shooting via the draft, though in my opinion it’s extremely unlikely that Garry Harris or Nik Stauskas are going to reach anywhere near Hayward’s level in the NBA.

Chicago—The Bulls have as good a shot as any at enticing Hayward to sign an offer sheet, as they’re on the verge of amnestying Carlos Boozer and starting Taj Gibson in his place. Chicago couldn’t shoot/score for their lives last year (as far as playoff teams go), and while a lot of that had to do with Derrick Rose going down and the decision to trade Luol Deng, they’re in desperate need of a guy who can not only shoot but take some of the pressure to create off of Rose. Hayward is an ideal fit alongside Jimmy Butler. Carmelo is obviously their first choice, but if that doesn’t happen look for the Bulls to make a play for Hayward, Parsons or Stephenson.

L.A. Lakers—With Pau Gasol set to hit free agency I’ll be stunned if the Lakers don’t make a move to acquire an up and coming player with All-Star potential to play alongside Kobe Bryant and the No. 7 overall pick of the draft. If Julius Randle were to slip to L.A. and the Lakers could add a player potentially on the verge of breaking out in Hayward, Parsons or Stephenson, they could be an intriguing team in 2014-15. Regardless of whether Randle slips, my gut feeling is that the Lakers will not exercise patience in securing talent capable of leading them into the Post-Kobe Era.

Conclusion

Despite Utah’s apparent intention to re-sign Hayward, it remains to be seen how much they’ll be willing to pay to keep him in town. Given the potentially insane depth at wing in the 2014 free agent pool, it’s going to be immensely interesting to watch it all play out just a few short weeks from now.

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