Contract years and career years seem to go hand-in-hand in professional sports, and Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward is the latest example of this.
Hayward, who was unable to negotiate a contract extension with the Jazz prior to the season, may now be in for a big pay day. The fourth-year swingman out of Butler is averaging 15.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists, all career highs.
There’s no question Utah would love to have Hayward back. Having just turned 24, he’s showed a vast array of skills and certainly made the jump as an overall playmaker this season.
The question now is; how much are the Jazz willing to pay to keep him in Utah?
While talking extension before the season, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported that Hayward was seeking a contract worth $50 million over four seasons. Obviously the Jazz felt differently, as no deal was reached between the two.
We know what kind of money Hayward wants, but what is he actually worth?
Andre Iguodala got a four-year, $48 million deal from the Golden State Warriors last season, which is similar to what Hayward is seeking. Iguodala averaged 13 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game for the Denver Nuggets in 2012-13, numbers very similar to what Hayward is putting up this year.
Based on his similarity score provided by basketball-reference.com, Hayward’s early career compares to that of current Oklahoma City Thunder forward Caron Butler. Following his rookie deal, Butler signed a five-year, $46 million contract with the Washington Wizards. This made for an annual salary of $9.2 million per year.
What may end up hurting Hayward in free agency is the plethora of talented small forwards. Guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will almost certainly opt out of their contracts, while Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Paul Pierce and Evan Turner can also hit the open market.
Rival executives told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that Hayward is probably worth about $9 million per year, but is expected to seek a deal that averages at least $10 million to $12 million a year.
One also has to consider where Hayward’s ceiling is. Can he be a team’s star and go-to scorer? Not yet, but a solid No. 2 or No. 3 sounds about right. Despite his wishes, it’s tough to imagine any team dishing out $50 million to a second or third option.
Since he’s a restricted free agent, the Jazz have the right to match any offer that Hayward receives. If all holds true, something in the $8 million-$10 million a year range sounds more accurate. Teams with money to spend in free agency tend to have a bit more leverage when there are multiple star players at the same position available.
So, is Hayward worth $50 million? Probably not, although $40 million over four years seems like a good compromise for both sides.
Signing a deal like this now would not only give Hayward the financial security he desires, but have him set up for another big pay day at age 28.
Utah should do their best to lock up their young star this summer, at the right price, of course.