At 10 p.m. Mountain Time on Friday, the Utah Jazz will officially enter a period of uncertainty the franchise hasn’t seen in a long, long time, if ever.
Unless All-Star forward Gordon Hayward executes a shocker and opts into the final year of his current contract which would pay him roughly $16 million next season, he’ll become a free agent and be in line for a pay increase of almost double next year and he could approach $200 million over the next five seasons.
The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are two teams that will likely do all they can to lure him away from the Beehive State, and of course the Jazz will also pull out all the stops to convince him to continue playing for the only team he’s ever suited up for in the NBA.
Hayward will have a bunch of options to choose from as far as how many years he signs for, no matter which team he chooses, but one big advantage Utah has is the number of years and amount of money it can offer him compared to any other squad.
The Jazz can offer a five-year deal worth almost $180 million over the life of the contract. The Celtics, Heat or any other team that decides to throw its name into the sweepstakes can offer a maximum of four years and about $133 million.
With Utah being able to offer so much more money, it’s other factors such as potential team success and his family situation that could play more into Hayward’s ultimate decision of whether or not to stay or go.
The focus of this piece will not be an examination of these factors, but rather what the Jazz roster and financial situation could look like next season both with and without Hayward in town.
What do the Jazz look like with Gordon Hayward next season?
Let’s start with what is surely the positive outcome as far as the Jazz are concerned. Should Hayward re-sign, Utah would have its franchise player and leading scorer in the fold who, even though he has impressively improved every season he’s been in the league, still probably hasn’t quite hit his prime yet.
With Hayward, the Jazz’s wing rotation is quite deep, assuming no trades are made with such players. Joe Ingles has stated his desire to re-sign this summer, Rodney Hood has shown to be an effective scorer and Utah drafted Donovan Mitchell with a lottery pick last week.
Additionally, Dante Exum played more off the ball at the end of the season rather than at point guard, and should Alec Burks get healthy, he adds an ability to finish at the rim like no other Jazz player.
The salary situation gets interesting with having a player who would make nearly $31 million next season, but it’s a problem the Jazz want to have. Beyond Hayward, Ingles’ contract will likely be in the $10 million ballpark, Burks will make nearly $11 million, Exum will make about $5 million, Hood will be at about $2.4 million and Mitchell will make about $2 million based on the rookie scale for the 13th overall pick.
That puts the Jazz at roughly $61 million for just those players. Other significant guaranteed salaries are Rudy Gobert ($22 million), Derrick Favors ($12 million) and Joe Johnson (10.5 million). Whether it be with Utah or someone else, George Hill is expected to sign for about $20 million per year (Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has been shopping around for a veteran point guard in hopes of having one secured before Hayward hits free agency, but for the moment, let’s assume both Hayward and Hill are back next season).
In other words, things are going to be expensive for the Jazz next season if Hayward comes back. Unlike in the past when Utah has been vocal about staying under the luxury tax, Lindsey has said the Miller family is willing to do what’s necessary to keep the team together. The luxury tax line is projected to be at $119 million, meaning the Jazz would essentially have to pay the league extra money for every dollar over that mark it goes in player salary.
What do the Jazz look like without Gordon Hayward next season?
Lindsey surely has already devised plans should Hayward decide to sign elsewhere, but it would certainly throw a gigantic wrench into what the general manager has been building throughout his tenure in Salt Lake City.
Hill’s future with the franchise certainly is in limbo, as Lindsey is interested in trading for a veteran point guard before Friday. If a good floor general is obtained, Hill is likely out the door. Should Hayward not come back, it’s hard to imagine Hill returning. There are a ton of variables that will be in play, but a return to San Antonio would be a possibility for the point guard.
In the simplest terms, without Hill and Hayward, Lindsey would essentially have two options: he could use the money he didn’t spend on that pair to try to lure a top level player or two in (could Blake Griffin get a phone call?) in an attempt to stay competitive in the Western Conference, or he could basically decide to nearly start the rebuild over, with Gobert as the key cog.
If that were to happen, each of the players currently under contract would certainly have a much greater responsibility in the 2017-2018 campaign. The Jazz might still be deep enough to push for a playoff spot, but they wouldn’t be a lock like they were last season.
In truth, there’s really no telling at this point what the full domino effect of Hayward leaving could be, but Lindsey does have some flexibility in that Favors, Johnson, Exum and Hood are all free agents next summer, meaning that roughly $30 million would come off the books, and then the general manager could decide which of the quartet he wanted to try to re-sign.
Utah took a big step forward last season by winning a playoff series, and Hayward returning would prime the team to be a force in the Western Conference for years to come, but him leaving would almost surely cause the group to take a major step backward.