SALT LAKE CITY — The suitors are calling, and Gordon Hayward is listening. His value is spiking, but the Jazz say they’ll match any offer that comes. Great. So what happens after that?
What will they do with a complimentary player they could end up paying $17 million a year?
In the likely event he does stay in Utah, Hayward will be pulling down rare-player money. It’s the familiar story of supply and demand. A three-bedroom loft in SoHo isn’t worth $10 million, either, but someone will pay it.
So the Jazz figure it may as well be them.
To avoid looking foolish, all they need to do is fashion him into the next Larry Bird. Except that Bird was a four-time All-Star and had one championship by the time he had been in the NBA four years. That’s an impossibly high bar.
Assuming the Jazz retain him, Hayward needs to focus on ensuring they don’t get buyer’s remorse by:
Taking charge. Hayward has been labeled a future leader by the Jazz, and he has addressed the question with the media many times, admitting he needs to step up. But that hasn’t happened. Not only is he fairly nonvocal, but he has been unable to put the team on his back.
He has won games and produced nice numbers (37 points vs. Oklahoma City), but he doesn’t inspire certainty when he has the ball as the clock ticks. Only occasionally does he truly take control. More often he’s just a hard-working, multidimensional player who needs attitude.
Improving his shot. As responsibilities have increased, Hayward’s shooting percentage has sunk. It’s true he does other things. But the Jazz desperately need him scoring.
Hayward should claim the assignment before Dante Exum or Trey Burke does.
Contributing in other ways is a fine attribute, but it shouldn’t be a fallback plan. Maybe it’s time to go back to his Indiana driveway and take an extra thousand shots a day. Speaking of Indiana, doesn’t Larry Bird live there?
It’s just a thought.
Avoiding the mopes. Though optimistic and pleasant by nature, last year Hayward looked like he was carrying a third mortgage. He didn’t often smile and sometimes seemed to be drifting off into (oh, no!) Carlos Boozerland, focusing on some distant point and speaking only in cliches.
Hayward works harder defensively than Boozer and is more team-oriented. But his body language gave him away late in the season.
Also, the temptation to disengage is powerful when fielding the same questions nightly. He should relax and let the fun-loving Hayward shine. Which brings us to
Enjoying the ride. He’s likely to make $15-$17 million a year, after earning a mere $4.6 million on his old contract. He should act like it.
Nobody’s saying he needs to party with a lampshade on his head, but Hayward has a devoted family, a wife, money and considerable talent. So why does he look miserable sometimes?
Oh, right, he doesn’t like to lose.
He can fix that.
Playing all four quarters: Sometimes he starts slowly, other times he ends poorly. That’s natural for most players. But money players are expected to be stars all the time.
Few that critique the NBA are actually predicting he will be a superstar. He’s been in the league four years and though he has posted good numbers (16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 2014), he’s not storming walls and plundering villages. He’s a player to watch but not to fear.
In his fourth season, Kobe Bryant was averaging 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists. Bird averaged 23.6 points, 11 rebounds and 5.8 assists. Michael Jordan was 35, 5.5 and 5.9.
Though Hayward’s numbers are nothing to dismiss, all the aforementioned players had been All-Stars multiple times by their fourth season.
At a level down, Jason Kidd averaged 11.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 9.1 assists in his fourth season. Scottie Pippen was 17.8, 7.3 and 6.2. Below that, Shawn Marion was at 21.2, 9.5 and 2.4. They too had been All-Stars by their fourth year.
Some fear Hayward could become the next Andrei Kirilenko, the one-time Jazz All-Star who became a financial mudslide. But Hayward is a better shooter and will have a shorter contract.
A better haircut?
You be the judge.
In one sense, Hayward isn’t worth $17 million annually, or even $15 million. He’s not a franchise player. But odds of the Jazz landing a significantly better/younger player through free agency are slim. The big-name talent seems to be making clear where it intends to land, i.e. not in Utah. But Hayward doesn’t have to be a bust.
All he needs to do is start acting like a guy who just walked into a 400 percent raise.
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