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Better fit for Hayward: Hornets or Jazz?

Published: Wednesday, July 9 2014 1:40 p.m. MDT

Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward (20) brings the ball up court in the second half during an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press) Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward (20) brings the ball up court in the second half during an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Instead of navy and gold, Gordon Hayward may be sporting purple and teal next season.

The 6-foot-8 small forward met with the Charlotte Hornets earlier this week and, according to Deseret News' Jody Genessy, has agreed to a four-year, $63 million offer sheet.

The Utah Jazz can match the deal and keep Hayward in Salt Lake City, but they’ll have to pay him more than they hoped to spend.

Last year, Hayward was looking for about $13 million annually, while the Jazz were only willing to pay $12 million. Now, thanks to Michael Jordan & Co., No. 20 will get nearly $15.8 million per season.

Though Charlotte’s offer is a bit rich for a player who has never contributed more than 5.2 wins above replacement player, it makes sense for three reasons.

1. The professional video-gamer is capable of having nights where he looks like he’s lifted straight out of NBA Jam. On Jan. 7, for instance, Hayward lit up the Oklahoma City Thunder for 37 points on 13-for-16 shooting. That’s huge for a team that averaged just 92 points per game in its first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat.

2. Having averaged 5.2 assists per game last year, Hayward could help shoot-first, pass-second point guard Kemba Walker facilitate the offense and get the ball to Al Jefferson, with whom he thrived during three seasons in Utah.

3. After losing Josh McRoberts, their stretch 4 who shot 36.1 percent from behind the arc last year, the Hornets will need someone who can spread the floor like Hayward. Yes, his 3-point shooting percentage dropped from 41.5 in 2012-13 to 30.4 in 2013-14, but that number is still significantly higher than that of the team’s other small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who made just 3 of 18 from deep in his first two seasons.

Still, Utah is probably the better fit.

Already local businesses’ go-to guy for endorsements (Subway, Bailey’s Moving & Storage, etc.), Hayward is also the Jazz’s go-to guy for points. Since his arrival to the Beehive State, he’s upped his scoring output from 5.4 points per game as a rookie to 11.8 his sophomore season to 14.1 in 2012-13 to 16.2 last year.

Additionally, Hayward is part of Utah’s collection of lottery picks that includes Derrick Favors (No. 3 in 2010), Enes Kanter (No. 3 in 2011), Alec Burks (No. 12 in 2011), Trey Burke (No. 9 in 2013) and Dante Exum (No. 5 in 2014).

If those players progress as expected, the Jazz should be formidable playoff contenders in the near future with Hayward playing a key role as the guy who elevates everyone’s game with his basketball IQ, athleticism and leadership.

Jared Bray is a contributing writer for the Deseret News. He also reports in English and Tagalog (a language he learned while serving a two-year church mission in the Philippines) for Balitang America, a nightly news program of The Filipino Channel.

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