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.
But Hayward's shooting percentages took a nosedive, dropping from 43.5 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from 3-point range in 2012-13 to 41.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent — a startling 11.1 percent decline — from beyond the arc in 2013-14.
Some folks are quick to point out that the added pressure of playing for his next contract may have had a negative impact on Hayward's shooting last season.
Fact is, though, that his shooting numbers have declined every year he's been in the league.
And now he'll have the added pressure of trying to play up to that max-money contract and prove that he deserves it.
His agent, Mark Bartelstein, confirmed his client's deal on Saturday.
"Charlotte put a great presentation in front of him, as far as (owner) Michael Jordan and (general manager) Rich Cho and Steve Clifford; I mean they really just made a terrific impression," Bartelstein told USA Today Sports. "And you know, it's great to know the Jazz think so highly of Gordon that they want to match it. So I think it's a win-win, you know?
"Charlotte made an incredible impression on him, and that's why he signed with them, and it's always great to know that your team values you that they would match an offer like that. (Hayward is) very thankful to Charlotte and that won't be forgotten. For the Jazz, I think they made a strong statement about how they feel about Gordon and now he'll come and play his heart out for them as he always has."
"I think it's certainly a gigantic statement of how the Jazz value Gordon," Bartelstein told The Associated Press. "It's always a wonderful thing when your own organization values you so much that they'd match a contract like this. I think it makes a great statement to Gordon about how they feel about him and value him."
Or, in this case, overvalue him.
Heck, it's not like he's been a bust since he got here. Hayward, the ninth overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, has averaged 12 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game over his first four NBA seasons.
And if they hadn't re-signed Hayward, who would the Jazz have gone after instead? It's not like Utah is a hot spot for big-name free agents to land. Maybe they felt like he was the best player they could hope to get.
Again, he's a nice player, a guy who'd be a solid, complimentary second- or third-best player on a lot of NBA teams.
But a max-money player?
Hopefully, over the next four years, Gordon Hayward will prove me wrong.
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