SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz aren't expected to be big players in the upcoming free agency market, which officially opens up Monday at 10 p.m.
But they do have their sights set on two familiar faces.
Gordon Hayward and Marvin Williams.
And Hayward, who earned $11 million in his first four NBA seasons, is about to get a huge pay raise.
The 6-foot-8 restricted free agent is expected to receive a significant contract offer, possibly upwards to a max deal, from the Phoenix Suns this coming week, according to sources.
Boston and Charlotte are two other teams that the Jazz anticipate could throw large offers at Hayward.
However, the Jazz plan on matching any offers for Hayward and intend to keep the versatile wing player in the organization as a major cornerstone in this rebuilding era, according to sources.
Utah extended a qualifying offer to Hayward last week, giving the team the right to match any offer sheets that he might receive.
Jazz management has made it clear since the season ended that it intends to keep Hayward in Utah for a long time. Moments after drafting Australian point guard Dante Exum and Duke forward Rodney Hood on Thursday, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey described the likelihood of Hayward returning to be "very, very strong."
Utah also hopes to re-sign the 6-foot-9 Williams, per sources. Williams played an appreciated role as a stretch-four forward last season and was considered to be a valuable asset and example in the locker room for a young Jazz team. He averaged 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in his ninth NBA season.
Other than that, the Jazz aren't expected to make a big splash in free agency. Instead, the team intends to let the young core of Hayward, point guard Trey Burke, shooting guard Alec Burks, and bigs Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Rudy Gobert continue to grow together with a few new acquisitions added into the mix.
One high priority Utah has, according to a team source, is a big man who can provide shooting and veteran experience. The 28-year-old Williams could fit that need, but he's also reportedly in demand elsewhere.
On draft night, Lindsey was asked to expound on the team's free-agency blueprint, and he seemed to indicate that the team wouldn't shy from reaching out to available top-tier players. While it's highly unlikely LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Dirk Nowitzki will land in Utah, the organization doesn't want to shut doors before at least presenting its case to the most appealing players.
"Our goal is to tell the Utah Jazz story and why this is a very attractive situation to free agents that we think could impact us the most," Lindsey said. "If we get a good audience, we’ll have a lot of money to spend on a high-impact player if that comes to fruition. If not, then we’ll look at different tiers and different roles."
Possibilities in the non-superstar tier include the likes of Detroit big man Greg Monroe, Houston forward Chandler Parsons, Washington forward Trevor Ariza, Lakers power forward Pau Gasol and Spurs forward Boris Diaw, among others.
One thing the Jazz have going for them is financial flexibility.
Even with Utah center Derrick Favors' four-year, $49 million kicking in this fall, the Jazz only have a guaranteed payroll of $32 million for eight players for the 2014-15 season. And that includes the rookie salaries of Exum ($3.6 million) and Hood ($1.3 million).
The salary cap for next season is expected to be about $63.2 million.
"There's quite a few needs relative to experience and leadership and shooting and a serious mindset that will help continue to move our young group forward," Lindsey said. "There's a lot of characteristics. There’s several positions that we want to look at. There's always a dollar sign attached to all of that. Hopefully, we’ll make good value judgments there."
Hayward is set to make $4.7 million for his fifth season if a deal isn't worked out (a highly unlikely scenario), but his salary could be triple that depending on how negotiations go.
Thanks to the revised CBA, which encourages teams to keep their own players, the Jazz could offer Hayward a max deal of about $85.2 million over five years.
Utah, sources say, will allow the market to dictate the price for Hayward, and that's where the Jazz have the advantage. Other NBA teams, if salary space permits, can only offer a max deal of $63.5 million to Hayward over four years.
For comparison's sake, Indiana small forward Paul George, selected one spot after Hayward (ninth) in the 2010 draft, received a max deal for five years for $95 million.
Phoenix is among the interested teams that has room to make a large offer to Hayward (if the Suns' reported plan of luring James and Anthony to Phoenix doesn't pan out). Hayward developed a strong relationship with Suns coach Jeff Hornacek during the first three seasons of his career when the former Jazz shooting guard was a shooting coach and assistant, and the coach has always spoken highly of his former pupil.
“I truly believe in a couple of years he can be an All-Star in this league if he continues to work on his game," Hornacek said of Hayward last season.
The Jazz hold the cards to thwart that possible reunion — or one with his Butler coach, Brad Stevens, in Boston or another with Al Jefferson in Charlotte — and Utah intends to play that hand.
"We’re really pleased with Gordon, who he is, who he’s become as a player," Lindsey said. "We think that he’s got some unique skills. We think Coach (Quin) Snyder’s system will bring out some of the skills he’s already shown, maybe even to a greater degree. We anticipate that Gordon will be with the Jazz for a long time."
Hayward struggled with his shot this past season as the team's go-to guy, but he was only one of five NBA players and the only other Jazzman besides Pete Maravich to average more than 16 points (16.2), five assists (5.2) and five rebounds (5.1) during a season.
Hayward, a Jazz captain last season, was invited to try out for the USA men's national team this July in Las Vegas with 27 other elite American basketball players.
While finding another big man and shooting remain priorities for the Jazz this offseason — either through free agency or trades — the team plans to keep veteran playmaker John Lucas III. The 31-year-old playmaker has a nonguaranteed deal through the 2014-15 season, but Utah likes his professionalism and leadership attributes that can continue to help young points Burke and Exum.
Utah could again look to take on some other teams' salaries, as it did last offseason when it received two first-round picks, second-round selections and cash in exchange for the Warriors' Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush and their $24 million salaries. But this offseason it might be hard for the Jazz to find a parter willing to exchange one first-round pick, let alone two.
Whatever happens, Lindsey contends that the Jazz won't skip steps en route to building a championship-level organization.
"Teams, players are like water, they always find their level. The results never lie. We won't run from what we did a few years ago with (trading) Deron Williams or what we did last year with our extreme youth movement," Lindsey said when asked if Thursday's draft selections helped moved the Jazz a step closer to their ultimate goal.
"We had a greater goal in mind when we decided to take a step back relative to our team experience, so this is another step we think in a positive direction. With that said, Dante’s less than 19 years old. We have to temper expectations for him, especially, and let him find his way and nature take its course."
While teams can begin negotiating tonight at 10 MDT, the NBA doesn't allow contracts to be signed until July 10. Utah can also begin working on extensions with Kanter and Burks from now through Oct. 31.
NBA.com free agent rankings
- LeBron James, SF
- Carmelo Anthony, SF
- Dirk Nowitzki, PF
- Dwyane Wade, SG
- Eric Bledsoe, PG
- Kyle Lowry, PG
- Isaiah Thomas, PG
- Pau Gasol, PF
- Kris Humphries, PF
- Jordan Hill, PF
- Lance Stephenson, SG
- Chris Bosh, PF
- Marcin Gortat, C
- Andray Blatche, C
- Paul Pierce, SF
- Amar'e Stoudemire, C
- Patty Mills, PG
- Chris Andersen, PF
- Greg Monroe, C
- D.J. Augustin, PG
- Ramon Sessions, PG
- Gordon Hayward, SF
- Chandler Parsons, SF
- Spencer Hawes, C
- Darren Collison, PG
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