SALT LAKE CITY — Right as the free agency period started last summer, Paul Millsap, then a Beehive State resident, received a visit to his Utah home from Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey.
Although Utah brass wanted Millsap to know how much they thought of him, the relationship ended later in the week when the seven-year Jazz power forward signed a two-year deal with Atlanta.
This time around, the Jazz didn’t visit their No. 1 target’s home, but restricted free agent Gordon Hayward and his agent did receive a phone call from Lindsey and Utah coach Quin Snyder as the free agency period kicked off just after 10 p.m. MDT Monday.
The Jazz intend to offer a contract to Hayward early in this free agency negotiation period, according to sources.
"There is a lot of interest in him," one source said.
Teams and players can now agree to terms of contracts, but they can’t be finalized until the signing moratorium ends on July 10.
Utah is also interested in bringing back power forward Marvin Williams to fill the team’s desire of acquiring a good-shooting veteran big man. The 27-year-old is an unrestricted free agent after spending the past two seasons with the Jazz after being traded from Atlanta.
The Jazz were among a handful of teams to express interest in Wizards small forward Trevor Ariza and his teammate, power forward Trevor Booker, according to The Washington Post and ESPN, respectively. The 6-8, 235-pound Booker averaged 6.8 points and 5.3 rebounds his first four seasons in Washington, while Ariza is coming off of a nice season in which he averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 boards.
Outside of their pursuit for Hayward and forward help, however, the feeling from NBA sources is that this free agency period could be "extremely uneventful" for Utah.
Of course, the Jazz will see what possible options are out there — and something could come up — but the team is committed to patiently growing through a youth movement rebuild.
Over the weekend, Lindsey repeated what could be his mantra about the franchise while talking about Utah draftees Dante Exum and Rodney Hood.
“We want to let nature take its course,” Lindsey said. “We don’t want to skip steps with the club.”
As it stands, the Jazz currently have about $32 million in payroll for the 2014-15 season, including rookies Exum ($3.6 million) and Hood ($1.3 million). The salaries of John Lucas III, Diante Garrett, Ian Clark, Erik Murphy and Malcolm Thomas will boost that by about another $5 million with their nonguaranteed contracts, but Utah still remains well under the anticipated salary basement of $56.9 million.
The Jazz have repeated a steady refrain about wanting Hayward, the 6-foot-8 guard/forward, back in Utah ever since negotiations ceased last October before the two sides could agree on a contract extension.
Over the weekend, in fact, Lindsey said the likelihood of Hayward returning was “very, very strong.” Further, multiple sources indicated that the Jazz intend on matching any offers that come to Hayward. Phoenix, Boston and Charlotte are among the most interested teams.
The Jazz are anticipating that the Suns could make a significant offer to Hayward, who forged a strong relationship with Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek. The two worked closely together when the former Jazz shooting guard was an assistant in Utah for the first three years of Hayward’s career.
Utah has the upper hand in keeping Hayward because it extended a qualifying offer to the 24-year-old last week, giving the organization the right of first refusal on matching any expected offers that come his way.
The Jazz were thought to be in the mindset of allowing the market to dictate Hayward’s salary, and other teams still could make a quick offer before Utah’s is delivered. Sources say multiple teams are considering throwing up to max deals in hopes of luring the versatile Butler product away from Utah.
“It’s safe to say Gordon will get very significant salary,” Lindsey said in April. “But we stand by our statement that we hope he’s a member of the Utah Jazz for the length of his career.”
The day after the season ended, Hayward said he’ll let the negotiations play out, but he reiterated that he’d be happy to continue his career in Utah.
That was also his message last fall even after the Jazz didn’t match his camp’s final proposal. His agent, Mark Bartelstein, denied that Hayward was asking for a max deal, which would be in the ballpark of five years, $85 million from Utah.
Because of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, which favors players staying with original teams, other suitors are only able to offer Hayward up to about $63.5 million over four years.
“One thing that we want to make clear,” Lindsey has said, “Gordon Hayward is a valued member of the Utah Jazz.”
The Jazz also have to plan their salary structure with the thought of possibly offering contract extensions this summer to center Enes Kanter and shooting guard Alec Burks, both of whom are entering their fourth seasons.
Nothing is concrete — and quite possibly never will be — but some around the NBA wonder if the Jazz will try to emulate what they did last offseason by taking salary dumps from the likes of Houston (Jeremy Lin) or Chicago (Carlos Boozer).
Utah picked up two first-rounders (landing Hood with the 23rd pick), a pair of future second-round selections and cash for a similar deal with Golden State last summer when it took on the expiring contracts of Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush.
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