I think whatever he decides to do, he has my best of wishes. If he decides to come back, that will be great. If not, I wish him the best of luck. Whatever he decides to do, I’m sure he's going to do great. —Jazz point guard Trey Burke, on Gordon Hayward
SALT LAKE CITY — Things got a little interesting in regards to Gordon Hayward on Wednesday after he agreed to terms of a max contract with Charlotte owner Michael Jordan and the Hornets.
Utah Jazz fans debated about him. Teammates expressed a desire to continue to play with him. The man who could be his future coach gave a compliment but also deftly deflected questions about him.
And the company running his basketball camp in Salt Lake City this week canceled a media availability for him.
The NBA team that Hayward has played for the past four seasons now has three days to officially match the Hornets' $63 million offer sheet to keep him.
Utah, which has first right of refusal on Hayward's contract, was expected to be put on the clock late Wednesday night when the 24-year-old signed with Charlotte, which hopes to reunite him with former Jazz center Al Jefferson.
Hayward agreed to terms with the Hornets after two days of being wined and dined by Jordan's organization, but that lucrative decision was made with the understanding that the Jazz have the option to retain him if they so choose within the next three days.
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 "nonissue 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 $14.7 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.
Asked about Hayward's free agency situation, Snyder punted on answering while being interviewed following Wednesday's summer-league practice.
"It’s probably not the right time to react to any of that," Snyder said. "It’s a situation that the club will comment on in due time. Probably, that’s for Dennis (Lindsey) to comment on right now."
The Jazz general manager, however, has stated that he is unable to talk about any personnel matters during the NBA's moratorium from July 1-10. Two of Hayward's former teammates admitted they'd love to have him back on the team.
"I think whatever he decides to do, he has my best of wishes," Jazz point guard Trey Burke said. "If he decides to come back, that will be great. If not, I wish him the best of luck. Whatever he decides to do, I’m sure he's going to do great."
Added second-year center Rudy Gobert when asked about Hayward: "Yeah, of course (I want him back). He's part of the process."
Interestingly enough, Hayward returned to Utah for a youth basketball camp he runs after being courted by Cleveland and Charlotte in the past week. He was going to hold a Q&A session with the media before the camp started Thursday in Salt Lake City, but the organizers sent a press release announcing the interview's cancellation.
"Due to recent developments surrounding Gordon in the free agency process, ProCamps has decided to close the Gordon Hayward ProCamp to the media in order to keep the focus of the event on the camp and the children attending."
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, 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."
“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.”
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.
"Gordon’s proven himself to be an integral part of what’s building here," Snyder said. "Obviously, everybody in the league knows he is a talent and really good player."
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, Burke, Dante Exum, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, 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 $63 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.
With Hayward, Utah will have 10 players on its roster who have 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 call-up 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.