Hugh Carey, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Let's get one thing out of the way from the opeing tip: Gordon Hayward is not a max-money NBA player.
Oh, sure, he's a nice all-around athlete, one who can help a team in many ways — scoring, rebounding, assists and defense. And at 6-foot-8, he can play either the shooting guard or small forward positions.
What's more, he's a wonderful, thoughtful and classy young man who's good in the locker room and in the community and one who, thankfully, doesn't ever cause problems or make any trouble in either of those places.
But a max-money player? One who will be a huge difference-maker on the court, display tremendous leadership and turn his team into a title contender?
Nope, not right now. And probably not ever.
But that didn't prevent him from getting a max-money offer sheet from the Charlotte Hornets. And it didn't keep the Utah Jazz from matching that offer — $63 million over the next four years — and re-signing the restricted free agent on Saturday.
After all, the Jazz said all along that they were gonna match whatever offer came Hayward's way once the free-agent signing period got going. It was only a matter of time before somebody — in this case, Charlotte, where former Jazz big man Al Jefferson now resides — decided Hayward was their guy.
"He's 24 years old and he has the talent, the character and the work ethic to be an All-Star player," Hornets head coach Steve Clifford told reporters last week.
Or not their guy, as it turns out.
Instead, he'll stay in Utah for the forseeable future. Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, who had until late tonight to make the move or allow Hayward to walk away, apparently looks at the former Butler University star as one of those indispensable cornerstone pieces in the franchise's rebuilding project, along with young big man Derrick Favors, who received a hefty contract extension from the team last season.
Speaking of a contract extension, the Jazz could've signed Hayward to one last season — and saved themselves a pile of money.
Hayward reportedly was asking for a new deal in the $13 million-a-year range, but Utah reportedly wouldn't budge off its offer of $12 million a year, so they decided to table discussions until after the 2013-14 season ended.
In doing so, the Jazz took a chance that another team wouldn't come calling with a big-money offer for Hayward's services. In essence, though, the Jazz gambled and lost.
Now, instead of locking him up for $13 million a year over the next four years, they'll be dishing out $15.75 million a year instead.
Sure enough, though, that strategy backfired, costing the team $11 million ($63 million instead of $52 million for four years), and might go down as the first major misstep in Lindsey's short but purposeful tenure as the Jazz general manager.
Then again, four years from now, if Hayward can progress as a player and steadily improve on his performance, perhaps experts around the league will laud Lindsey's foresight in keeping the 6-8 swingman around.
But for that to happen, Hayward will have to play a whole lot better than he did last season.
Oh, sure, he averaged career highs in points (16.2 per game), assists (5.2), rebounds (5.1) and steals (1.4) in 2013-14, when he led a lousy 25-57 Jazz team in scoring and minutes played. He was the first Jazz player to average 16/5/5 per game since the late, great Pete Maravich.
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