NBA Free Agency: The Utah Jazz have a George Hill dilemma

Apr 7, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) warms up prior to their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) warms up prior to their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

Although Gordon Hayward is the Utah Jazz’s most important free agent, George Hill could turn out to be the one that produces the most difficult decisions.

Without any trace of a doubt, the Utah Jazz’s top priority this offseason is to find a way to retain All-Star and unrestricted free agent Gordon Hayward. As the team’s leading scorer and most talented available option at the position that the Jazz could realistically net this summer, losing him would be absolutely devastating and would without a doubt cause the Jazz to take a major step backwards.

One thing is for certain, though, the Hayward situation is about as simple as they come. Utah intends to re-sign him and pay him every penny he’s worth (the thought of him taking a discount is nice, but far from likely), so either the Jazz will be successful in doing so or he will opt to pursue greener pastures and leave the team that he has helped create high and dry.

That’s it. Utah wants to keep him, but the decision is ultimately Hayward’s, so there’s really only two scenarios there.

Another one of the Jazz’s unrestricted free agents this summer, though, is a different matter entirely. Of course, I’m speaking about point guard George Hill who played a big role in Utah’s revamp this season. Once again, the decision of where he ends up is ultimately up to Hill, but in his case there are plenty of scenarios that exist that could make his choice, as well as the choices of Jazz brass, quite difficult.

Make no mistake about it, the Utah Jazz have a George Hill dilemma. While Hayward’s decision will be the most important one of the offseason, deciding Hill’s fate may very well be the most difficult.

But let’s start with the facts. The Utah Jazz were unquestionably better when George Hill was active and healthy. In the season’s early-going, he essentially revolutionized the team that has struggled at the point guard position since the departure of Deron Williams. Hill’s efficiency from both the field and from deep were off the charts and he instantly became an incredible fit with the team.

However, as we all know, what may have otherwise been a miraculous season for Hill was largely derailed by injuries. When all was said and done, Utah’s starting point guard missed 33 games with problems ranging from a sprained thumb, to a sore toe, to a lip laceration and concussion. Yeah…it was a rough year for him.

Not to mention, Hill was unable to go when the stakes were at their absolute highest as he missed Games 2-4 of the Western Conference Semifinals which essentially guaranteed the Golden State Warriors’ sweep. Might that have happened even if he had played? Sure. But there’s still no denying that Steph Curry and Co. got to face a much less daunting Jazz squad with Shelvin Mack commanding the majority of the minutes at the point.

Therefore, despite all the good that Hill did for Utah last season, his injuries beg the question – is he really worth bringing back next season?

If the Jazz could retain him at the identical $8 million contract amount that he’s currently under, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Despite the injuries, Hill was a perfect fit with the Jazz and made them exponentially better when he was on the court.

Therefore, if an affordable $8 million contract were possible, there’s no way the Jazz would consider tampering with something that worked quite well and instead would just presume that George would be able to return to his normally durable ways which have seen him log 74 games or more in six of his nine NBA seasons.

But unfortunately, the days of a solid veteran, even a non-All-Star, making a “meager” $8 million are long gone. Due to the recent salary cap spike, Hill will command a much larger pay raise on the NBA open market. In fact, Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale just reported earlier this week that he believes Hill may very well be one of a handful of unexpected free agents to be extended a lucrative max contract this offseason.

And that’s exactly where things get tricky for the Jazz.

Is it worth bringing him back at that level in spite of injury concerns? Even if he’s healthy, can Hill be consistent enough to merit that kind of cash? Even if the answer is yes to both of those questions, what about this one – can the Jazz take any sort of leap in the West if they invest that much money in Hill and essentially handcuff themselves from adding any additional talent of significance this summer?

Now do you see why the Jazz have a George Hill dilemma?

There’s obviously a ton to consider here and a lot of it will ultimately revolve around three things – first and foremost Gordon Hayward’s decision, but also the offers Hill receives from other teams around the league and, perhaps most crucially, where he ultimately wants to be. With that being said, let’s take a look at a few scenarios.

The first is if the Jazz get a sense or flat-out know that Gordon Hayward’s decision to stay is dependent on George Hill remaining with the team as well, then all debates end. Whether it’s on a max contract or not, then the Jazz absolutely have to pay to keep him. I don’t know that this would be the case, but Hayward and Hill clearly have a great relationship, so if this were to surface it would be Utah’s only option.

Yeah, the Jazz will be absolutely strapped for cash if they dole out two max contracts to Hayward and Hill, but there’s really no other alternative, at least not for the immediate future, if they hope to remain relevant in the West. Obviously the bright side of this equation would be that Hayward would then hypothetically stay put, but the bad news, as I alluded to, is Utah’s hands would be tied in regards to adding more players and the roster’s talent level would essentially be set.

The complete opposite scenario is that Gordon Hayward up and walks. If this happens, affordability will no longer be a concern as Utah will be able to use their massive cap space to find a Hayward replacement and could keep Hill as well.

In fact, in a recent 1280 The Zone interview that I covered yesterday, Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler mentioned that re-signing Hill in the wake of Hayward’s departure could very well be Utah’s best bet from a talent standpoint and to utilize the cap space they’ll have. I definitely see that point of view, but I also see Utah instead opting to let Hill walk knowing that their title hopes will have taken a major hit and instead plan for financial flexibility in the future.

That’s not to say they’d let Hill walk then go through a total rebuild – Rudy Gobert’s prime years are far too valuable for that – but it might mean a mini rebuild where they let the dust from Hayward’s departure settle, part ways with Hill, then plan to make some big moves in the near future such as the offseasons of 2018 or 2019, or even at the 2018 trade deadline, to get back to relevancy after that.

Then there’s the possibility that Hayward stays and the Jazz hope to retain Hill as well, but a team like the Brooklyn Nets or Philadelphia 76ers send a max offer sheet his way. To be honest, I would hope that Hill would value winning and the exceptional fit he’s developed in Utah over playing for big bucks for a team that’s far behind the Jazz, but as they say, money talks.

And Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey made it quite clear that if Hill receives that kind of offer, the Jazz could very well decide it isn’t in their best interest financially to keep Hill on board and would completely understand his decision to leave. Per the Deseret News’ Mike Sorensen, Lindsey said the following:

"“I told him (Hill) if he gets a crazy offer somewhere else and we helped him get that offer, ‘you’re not going to get one poor thought, much less a word (from us)’ if he were to go.”"

In other words, the Jazz are grateful for what Hill has done, but if he decides pursuing max dollars is his best option and that doesn’t fit with what Utah wants to build for next year, then they’ll likely let him walk.

And this leads to the last scenario that I’ll cover (though I suppose there could be many, many more), and that involves the fact that I truly believe the Jazz want to keep Hill and based on how well he played when healthy, I think that he would like to stay as well. Thus, there is the possibility that either Hill rejects offers that come his way or perhaps those offers don’t come and he and the Jazz agree on a fair contract for both parties.

This could very well be ideal as I do think Hill’s injury-riddled season was somewhat of an anomaly and I do truly like what he brings to the team. However, if Utah is going to have any hope of competing with the top teams in the West, they’re going to need to add an additional piece beyond their top three players of Hayward, Hill and Gobert.

Therefore, if Hill is able to be kept at a reasonable amount providing the Jazz with some flexibility, it could very well be their best and most realistic chance of making yet another leap forwards in the standings next season.

If Hill’s able to be kept at a manageable price and wants to return to Utah, I see only two things that would prevent it from actually happening. Either the Jazz probe around the league and find a point guard that they’re more confident in that comes at a similar price range and opt to pick him up as a Hill replacement, or they decide to gamble and turn the point guard reins over to Dante Exum and use the money they would have spent on Hill’s salary on a talented player at a different position.

In either of those cases, if Jazz brass are the ones making the decision to pass on Hill instead of Hill choosing not to return, it probably means that they have something positive and beneficial in the works and that would definitely soften the blow of losing the free agent point guard.

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Therefore, while it’s clear that the Jazz will have some big decisions to make regarding George Hill, the good news is that, with the exception of a Hayward departure, or having their hands forced to max both Hill and Hayward, the Jazz actually have a lot of good options surrounding their free agent point guard.

And while it would be great if Utah could figure out a way for him to stay, at the end of the day I feel confident that regardless of where Hill ends up next year, Dennis Lindsey and Co. will have a solid plan in place to ensure that the Jazz can either recover or stay on their upwards trajectory and remain a playoff force in 2018.