SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward made the most out of his visit to Charlotte this week, and he's about to become a whole lot richer as a result.
The restricted free agent agreed to terms with the Charlotte Hornets on a contract offer sheet late Tuesday night, sources confirmed to the Deseret News.
The max deal, first reported by the Charlotte Observer, is expected to be worth about $63 million over four seasons.
Hayward, who's been with Utah for four years since being drafted ninth overall in 2010 from Butler, can sign the offer sheet after the NBA's moratorium ends on Thursday. The Jazz will have three days after he signs to match the offer from Michael Jordan's squad.
Expect that to happen.
Multiple sources have insisted the Jazz both anticipated that Hayward, a versatile 6-8 swingman, would receive a hefty offer and that Utah management would match it.
That point was reiterated again late Tuesday when another person with knowledge of the situation told the Deseret News that Hayward agreeing to a max deal with the Hornets is a "non-issue for the Jazz."
In other words, Utah will match.
Simply put, the Jazz would consider it a step back to begin anew with a different small forward.
Don't be surprised, however, if the Jazz wait until the end of their 72-hour period to formalize Hayward's signing, if for no other reason than as a mild form of retribution to the Hornets. Charlotte will have $14.8 million (Hayward's 2014-15 earnings) worth of cap space tied up until Utah finalizes its decision, temporarily hindering what it can do with other free agents during a critical juncture.
Hayward struggled with his shot last season, hitting a career-low 41.3 percent from the field. However, the 24-year-old athlete was only one of five NBA players to average at least 16 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Although the Jazz and Hayward's camp didn't reach an agreement during the extension period last fall, general manager Dennis Lindsey has made it clear that the organization values his well-rounded skill set. On the night of the draft, Lindsey admitted the likelihood of having Hayward back was "very, very strong."
Hayward checks a lot of boxes for what management wants in one of its cornerstone players. The Jazz value his all-around assets as a basketball player, his ability to work with and without the ball, his defensive prowess, his size and athleticism for his wing positions, his array of offensive weapons, his leadership potential, his personal character and his presence in the community.
“It’s safe to say Gordon will get a very significant salary,” Lindsey said the day after the 2013-14 season concluded. “But we stand by our statement that we hope he’s a member of the Utah Jazz for the length of his career. ... One thing that we want to make clear, Gordon Hayward is a valued member of the Utah Jazz.”
Clearly, the Hornets — not to mention other teams that showed interest in him such as Cleveland, Boston and Phoenix — are intrigued enough to try to fit him into their plans as well.
The Jazz prepared for this eventual scenario of allowing the market to dictate his price and even perhaps overpay for his highly sought services. The franchise is eager to see how the young group of Hayward, Derrick Favors, Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood develop together.
Utah is able to absorb a larger-than-ideal contract for Hayward, who will have a player option in the fourth season, thanks to orchestrated financial flexibility. Even with Hayward's large raise, the Jazz will still be between $9-$13 million below the estimated $63.2 million salary cap, depending on whether they keep nonguaranteed players (Ian Clark, John Lucas III, Malcolm Thomas and Erik Murphy).
Although some speculation has arisen about a sign-and-trade possibly being worked out between Charlotte and Utah, that isn't likely to happen. The Hornets simply don't have pieces that fit the Jazz's puzzle.
Yahoo Sports reported that Hayward's offer sheet includes a 15 percent trade kicker. Charlotte inserted that, included a fourth-year player option and offered Hayward max money in hopes to make matching the contract less attractive for the Jazz.
Hayward spent two days in Charlotte as the Hornets pitched for him to reunite with former Jazz center Al Jefferson, who signed a three-year, $41 million deal there a year ago.
When the Jazz retain Hayward, Utah will have 10 players on its roster with guaranteed contracts and four with nonguaranteed pacts for the 2014-15 season. As usual, the team will likely carry 13-14 players, leaving a roster spot or two open for a midseason acquisition or a D-League callup from its new affiliate, the Idaho Stampede.
The Jazz still could sign another free agent before fall camp, but the to-be-finalized trade for Steve Novak gives Utah a veteran big man sharpshooter it was in search of this offseason.