Showing Hayward the money was priceless move for Jazz

Tuesday , July 15, 2014 - 11:09 PM

Hornets Hayward Basketball-1

FILE - In this March 24, 2014 file photo, Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward (20) shoots in the second half...

Not that he wasn’t doing well already, but now it’s out there for everyone to see: Gordon Hayward is a rich man.

A very rich man.

The Utah Jazz wing player last week signed a big ol’ maximum contract, a deal that will pay him $63 million over the next four years. In doing so the Jazz matched the offer Hayward received from the Charlotte Hornets, thereby removing any doubt that the 24-year-old is indeed the face of the franchise.

The money – the max offer – made headlines and raised eyebrows, not just locally but around the NBA (as much as Jazz news ever really does). It’s not that Hayward is viewed as a failure as a player, it’s just that he wasn’t really considered a max money guy.

Of course that’s now a moot point.

He is a max money player because he’s now making max money, end of story.

Actually, strike that last line.

It’s not the end of the story, it’s the beginning. From now until the end of his contract, Hayward’s play will be scrutinized by media guys like me and diehard fans like you.

With every missed shot we’ll point and holler, “See, he’s overrated.”

With every missed rebound, steal or defensive mistake we’ll throw our hands up and ask, “That’s a max player?”

With every loss the Jazz suffer we’ll scratch our heads and lay the blame at Mr. Max.

And you know what? We’ll be wrong.

We’ll be wrong because the size of Hayward’s contract is, quite frankly, immaterial. The important thing is that the Jazz kept him on the roster and in doing so continued on with their investment in him.

Clearly, general manager Dennis Lindsey has a plan in place. He’s working from a blueprint that relies heavily on stability. The Jazz drafted Hayward with the No. 9 overall pick in 2010, believing he possessed the qualities they needed, and for the most part he has delivered.

In fact, he has more than delivered considering when he first joined the team he was seen as a complementary piece to All-Star point guard Deron Williams and center Al Jefferson. But then Williams clashed with coach Jerry Sloan. Shockingly, Sloan retired in the middle of the 2010-11 season and Williams was subsequently traded. Jefferson was eventually allowed to leave as a free agent and just like that Hayward became a tenured veteran and leader to a very young, very inexperienced team.

In the wake of turmoil, he offered reliability and stability. The Jazz are still young and inexperienced but they’re talented and hopeful of things to come. Perhaps at another time and place letting Hayward leave would have been the prudent thing to do, but at this juncture it is more important to let his young teammates see first hand the Jazz’s commitment to the future.

Imagine for a moment if Lindsey had allowed Hayward to leave. What would that have said to those who remained? What message would it have sent to point guard Trey Burke or to flashy two guard Alec Burks? Surely they would have concluded that Lindsey’s flowery talk of family and team building is just that: talk.

Shoot, even rookies Dante Exum and Rodney Hood would have deduced that to the Jazz, it’s not personal, it’s business.

Yes, of course it’s a business. Of course money matters, especially in a small market. But Lindsey has been careful to leave room under the salary cap to keep his best players right where they belong. And make no mistake, Hayward is one of the team’s best players, if not it’s best. While his shooting averages have declined, his ability to effect the game in other ways has risen.

He passes, he rebounds, he defends and just as important, he unites the team and gives it a chance to succeed.

And to the Jazz, that’s priceless.

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo

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