One of the two biggest free agents possibly switching teams this offseason is Gordon Hayward. The Utah Jazz are obviously making a push to re-sign him and keep their project heading in the right direction. But the temptation from the East Coast, as both the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat attempt to lure him away, is difficult to ignore.
Hayward grew up in Indianapolis and played his college basketball there, starring for Butler before the Utah Jazz used the 9th overall pick of the 2010 NBA draft to choose him. Seven years later, after Hayward took his time in establishing himself as the team’s star and one of the best small forwards in the NBA, he might be going. Remember, after his 4th season with the team, Hayward signed an offer sheet with the Charlotte Bobcats, which the Jazz matched. He had one more year on his deal but he waived it, as $16 million next season isn’t really that much considering how much he can make. The max for Hayward, with 7 years in the league, is $29.7 million, so it’s understandable why he’s hitting free agency.
Staying in Utah makes a lot of sense. Hayward went through the bad periods and became a big part of the good ones, helping the Jazz to their first postseason since 2012, as they made it into the conference semifinals. The Jazz have built slowly and patiently, focusing on building a strong defensive team before adding depth and some offensive spark. A team that has always struggled keeping their best players after the days of Karl Malone & John Stockton, it seems as if this standoff with Hayward will make the difference between becoming an actual contender in the West (need to hold on to George Hill and maybe Joe Ingles) or going back to the drawing board.
The Boston angle is interesting. Danny Ainge has a son who is a Utah politician, pushing for Hayward to stay in Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, Ainge is trying to build a team that will finally topple the LeBron James domination in the Eastern conference. They’re been looking at Paul George, but making a trade for him is difficult. And there’s the interesting connection of Brad Stevens, who coached very successfully at Butler, including the HC of Hayward.
The Miami Heat have less in terms of substance. A team with some interesting players and plenty of cap space, with a coach with two NBA titles, not to mention Pat Riley. Hayward is a Midwest guy now playing in one of the less glitzy cities the NBA has to offer, so it’s hard to say if the lure of South Beach which is very appealing to some players has any hold on him, but Hayward has the opportunity of getting his own team in a place with a much bigger media appeal than Utah.
There is a rumor of a 4th team trying to land Hayward – maybe the Indiana Pacers or perhaps the Chicago Bulls for those thinking about Hayward going back to where he grew up or the vicinity of it. In any case, the Jazz-Celtics-Heat conundrum seems to be the main thing he’s focusing on, and one of those teams is his most likely destination.