There are seven shooting guards and small forwards that are going to be paid more than Gordon Hayward in the near future. Besides Rudy Gay and Joe Johnson (underrated, anyway), they are all either iconic NBA legends like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade or the greatest on Earth (Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony). Nobody cares about Gordon Hayward. There’s not much to care about, which makes sense because he flashed for a season at Butler University, nearly sinking the Tournament winner from halfcourt, before vanishing into the vast nothingness of Utah for a couple miscast, and treacherously nothing seasons.
Hayward has now resurfaced, poking his head through a heap of green, after being buried under the likes of Marvin Williams, Randy Foye, and Tyrone Corbin’s “system”. Overused and pitched to teams as the point-forward, sharp-shooting, basket-slashing all-in-one Swiss Army weapon, Hayward merely reached a smidge above the floor of those expectations. He turned the ball over. He shot poorly. There was a little offensive improvement but often masked by the long stretches of wretched white noise. By the time he was finished fighting through the defense’s full attention, he was barely moving on the other end, putting his sizable length to waste.
$63 million dollars later, Hayward is working himself into a situation that both needs and accepts his strengths and weaknesses. The Charlotte Hornets, that Michael Jordan-led team, overpaid for Al Jefferson and it panned out because they needed him. They sorely lacked any semblance of a structural offense, a pivot stationed on any spot on the hardwood, creating lanes and spacing for everyone else. Perhaps Hayward fills the role of that versatile wing forward, a guy with an ostensibly trustier shot than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the offensive everythingness to replace Miami Heat superstar Josh McRoberts.
But this is about the Utah Jazz, so hasty to fashion themselves a fringe contender, likely to match this contract without hesitation. It’s not a surprise given their willingness to extend Derrick Favors (then curiously throwing him into trade rumors during the 2014 NBA Draft). Unlike the NFL, the NBA is less of a copycat league. No one is that naive to think that just because the San Antonio Spurs won another NBA title that it’s so easy to select a top-10 player of all time and supplement him with home run after home run in the latter stages of the Draft, all while banking on a great coach.
The Orlando Magic, under analytically-inclined Rob Hennigan, has drafted and constructed a team that cannot shoot the ball consistently past the free throw line. The Philadelphia Sixers are purposely drafting players they’re redshirting, and “stumbling” into a vast pit of losses hoping to rise back years later with some semblance of dignity and success. The Utah Jazz, meanwhile, seem to be confused with what they want to do, at least from a team concept. They’re paying Favors and Hayward handsomely, hoping to reap the benefits of potential earnings, all the while miscasting them as franchise cornerstones. Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, and Trey Burke round out the highly talented, without a transcendent talent, on this list. Signing veteran players while suppressing the role player abilities of Burks and Kanter runs counter-intuitive to the notion that this rebuilding is ready for several steps forward and zero shifting backwards. If it’s just Corbin’s fault for valuing Richard Jefferson and random veterans, that’s quite a lot of pressure on Quin Snyder, a first-time NBA head coach, to implement a system worth paying all this money for. It isn’t the money that’s hurting the Jazz but the lack of growth rendered for these players.
The contract isn’t abhorrent and won’t tie up the team from a financial sense. It does, however, portend that the Jazz mean to hi-jack the road to relevance, at least through the continued development (if even possible) of Hayward and Favors with other unproven youngsters. This is merely Year Two of a true rebuild but the Jazz aren’t waiting. I have no idea what Quin Snyder will do, if he’s Jeff Hornacek or another Corbin. There seems to be a method to the purposed putridness of the Sixers. The Jazz, a soon-to-be mainstay in the lottery are closer to the variance in rebuilding imagery as the Magic. It’s just, as much as everyone likes to lament, wax poetic, and trust in the Process, it doesn’t seem like the Utah Jazz have one. This might not matter when underdeveloped players like Burks and Kanter pan out in Year 4. Or guys like Burke and Exum explode right away. Either way, there’s a whole lot of uncertainty around a team banking on a first-time coach and two highly-paid mediocre assets.
I get that everyone has to start somewhere. It’s just unclear where the starting line was for the Utah Jazz.