Utah Jazz star Gordon Hayward can opt out of his current contract in order to sign a more lucrative deal this summer.
With the drama of postseason basketball now just a memory for the Utah Jazz, another situation has taken center stage in the Salt Lake Valley. Namely the status of the team’s lone All-Star, Gordon Hayward.
Although Hayward can opt in with the Jazz for one more season and $16.7 million, many expect the seven-year pro to forego the final year of his current deal in favor of the chance to sign a new max-money contract this summer.
With the league’s financial landscape shifting dramatically in recent years, Hayward can make millions more (with the Jazz or otherwise) next season by seeking a new deal.
Of course, if Hayward sneaks onto one of the All-NBA Teams this week, he would become eligible for a designated veteran player exception that could see him opt in and, eventually, exceed the 30 percent of cap, maximum salary for players with seven to nine years of service to remain in Utah.
Having said that, let’s take a look at the alternative. Let’s say Hayward doesn’t qualify for the DPE, isn’t sold on the Jazz and elects to sign with another team. Where would this leave the Jazz in terms of the cap their ability to reload this summer?
For starters, let’s look at who the team has locked in long-term and who could be entering free agency this summer —
Coming off the Books
The Jazz have some things working in their favor here. First of all, there’s the long-term extension they were able to ink with Rudy Gobert. This assures that the player who gives the team its identity will be staying put long-term.
Next we have multiple players on rookie-scale contracts (notably Rodney Hood, Dante Exum and Trey Lyles).
Finally, the Jazz have more money coming off the books next offseason (Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson account for $22.5 million alone).
The team could technically shed Raul Neto and/or Joel Bolomboy as well, but given the roster and money situations, let’s say the Jazz hang on to them.
In looking at this summer and the upcoming season specifically, the Jazz currently have $66 million (estimated) in salary obligation. However, the team also currently owns two late first-round selections in the 2017 NBA Draft. Cap holds for those picks add up to just under $3 million. The incoming rookies would also take up two roster spots.
So, at the end of the day, the Jazz would have in the area of $30-32 million (and four open roster spots) if Hayward and Co. leave based on a projected $101 million cap, with an extra $20 million before the team hits the luxury tax.
This would put the Jazz in the top half of teams in terms of spending power this summer, close to the middle of the pack. Players like Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin could all potentially hit the market, but it’s Salt Lake City probably isn’t on their list of potential destinations should they leave their current clubs.
In all likelihood, the Jazz would probably be forced to overpay for/take a risk on someone like Washington Wizards wing Otto Porter (13.4 PPG, 6.4 REB, 43.4 3P%), Danilo Gallinari (18.2 PPG, 5.2 REB, 38.8 3P%) or Rudy Gay (18.7 PPG, 6.3 REB, 37.2 3P%) to replace Hayward.
The next big hole would be at point guard, where they could be looking at players like Jrue Holiday (15.4 PPG, 7.3 APG, 3.9 RPG) or Patty Mills (9.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 41.3 3P%) to take the place of George Hill.
At that point, they would be treading water, filling in the rest of their roster with minimum players and cap exceptions, and hoping that Dante Exum, Rodney Hood and/or Trey Lyles can make the big jump while Gobert acts as the anchor down low.
The other option would be to play it cheap this summer, then hit the market with more money in 2018. However, in today’s NBA, even if the Jazz are flush with cash, there’s always going to be other teams with money to spend or a more desireable market. They could also hit the trade market, but big-time deals aren’t easy to pull off.
In the end, this could mean the Jazz have to hit the reset button once again.
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The bottom line here is that, if Hayward leaves, there may be tough times ahead. Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey might be able to plug some of the team’s holes well enough to keep them competitive, but any hope of taking another step forward after winning 51 games and advancing to the second round of the playoffs could be dashed.