AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Gordon Hayward flying up in stature, toward contract conundrum

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Auburn Hills, Mich. – Asked about making an All-NBA team, Gordon Hayward gave a stock answer about focusing on team success. Pressed further, he relented and talked about himself.

“It would be really cool, man. It would be,” Hayward said before a lengthy pause, “something that I don’t think I ever thought I would achieve, for sure.”

And then he went right back into Utah’s team goals.

Hayward better get his head around what making an All-NBA team would mean for him personally, because the stakes are high – and tricky.

The NBA’s impending Collective Bargaining Agreement calls for a new class: designated veteran players. They can receive a starting salary of 35% of the salary cap with just eight or nine years of experience, up from the usual 30% for players in the league that long. To qualify, a player must also meet one of three criteria:

  • Win MVP in any of the three seasons before signing
  • Win Defensive Player of the Year the season before signing or both of two seasons before that
  • Make an All-NBA team the season before signing or both of two seasons before that

With all due respect to Hayward, he isn’t winning MVP or Defensive Player of the Year. An All-NBA team is his ticket to a designated-veteran-player extension.

Will he nab one of the six forward slots?

A dozen forwards (or quasi-forwards) were All-Stars this season. Here’s how they stack up in win shares (blue), PER-based Estimated Wins Added (yellow) and Real-Plus-Minus-based wins (green):

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Player WS EWA RPM Wins AVG
LeBron James (CLE) 10.5 18.4 14.9 14.6
Kawhi Leonard (SAS) 11.6 18.0 11.3 13.6
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 10.6 18.7 11.6 13.6
Kevin Durant (GSW) 11.3 17.0 12.1 13.5
Jimmy Butler (CHI) 10.0 15.6 14.1 13.2
Anthony Davis (NOP) 9.4 18.4 10.2 12.7
Gordon Hayward (UTA) 9.2 12.7 7.8 9.9
Draymond Green (GSW) 7.3 5.8 13.1 8.7
Paul Millsap (ATL) 6.1 7.4 10.9 8.1
Kevin Love (CLE) 5.4 7.7 7.6 6.9
Paul George (IND) 4.9 9.0 6.7 6.9
Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 4.6 9.0 4.8 6.1

LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard are All-NBA locks. After that? It’s wide open.

Kevin Durant put up an awesome season before he got hurt, but he’ll remained sidelined while other candidates help their teams. His candidacy is basically a finished product.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (guard), Jimmy Butler (guard) and Anthony Davis (center) could all slide to different positions. The league places players at the position where they receive most votes. The Bucks call Antetokounmpo a point guard (and a forward), but the NBA considered him a frontcourt player for All-Star-starter voting, which could color All-NBA voters. Butler has primarily been a forward this year, but Dwyane Wade‘s season-ending injury could have Butler closing at guard. Similarly, though Anthony Davis has played center twice as much as power forward this season, his lasting impression will be at forward next to DeMarcus Cousins.

Draymond Green leads the other contenders. He was All-NBA second team last season, a telling marker for him in particular. All-NBA voters recognizing him last year show they appreciate his distinctive skill set, and it remains impressive.

Paul Millsap belongs in the mix, though he rarely gets his just due. George, on the other hand, has more name recognition. If he finishes his up-and-down year strongly, he might actually deserve to be All-NBA.

And then there’s Hayward, who’s averaging 21.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He carries a huge offensive load while shooting extremely efficiently and protecting the ball – in historic proportions. He’s also playing a major role in one of the NBA’s best defenses.

There are just so many good forwards this season. Hayward can’t bank on anything – even the date All-NBA selections will be revealed.

The league announced a new award show for June 26, which will honor the Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man Award, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year. Presumably, All-NBA will also be a part of that show, but nothing is definitive.

Waiting that long would give Hayward just three days to decide on his $16,736,710 player option for next season – a far harder decision than meets the eye.

If Hayward doesn’t make All-NBA, opting out is a no-brainer. His maximum salary – and he’s a no-question max player – projects to be more than $30 million.

Then why would Hayward consider opting in?

Another rule says designated veteran players must have eight or nine full years of experience when receiving the higher salary. Hayward is in his seventh year.

So, if Hayward makes an All-NBA team and wants to sign a designated-veteran-player-extension, he must first opt in. He’d earn $16,736,710 next season, his eighth. Then, the monster extension would begin in 2018-19.

Here’s the max Hayward projects to earn by opting out and re-signing (yellow) or signing a designated-veteran-player-extension (green):

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Year DVP extension Opt out, re-sign
2017-18 $16,736,710 $30,600,000
2018-19 $36,050,000 $33,048,000
2019-20 $38,934,000 $35,496,000
2020-21 $41,818,000 $37,944,000
2021-22 $44,702,000 $40,392,000
2022-23 $47,586,000
Total $225,826,710 $177,480,000
Average $37,637,785 $35,496,000

Remember, this choice is available to Hayward only if he makes an All-NBA team. If he doesn’t, opting out is the easy call.

But if he makes an All-NBA team, the decision is complicated.

A designated-veteran-player extension guarantees Hayward more money, but it’s also over more years. If Hayward signs a new five-year contract, he’d almost certainly still earn something in 2022-23. Enough to offset the nearly $48 million difference? I doubt it.

On the other hand, Hayward might be better off entering free agency at age 32 rather than 33 (or 31 rather than 32 if he can get player options in these deals).

A fresh contract would also give Hayward more money up front, a projected extra $14 million next season.

And that’s comparing just these two (seemingly most likely) options. Hayward could opt out, get his big raise next season on a short-term contract and try to make an All-NBA team in a future season to get the best of both worlds. But that’s really betting heavily on himself to maintain this elite standing. He could leave Utah. The Jazz could balk at giving him the full designated-veteran-player max. (Teams are allowed to specify a starting salary between 30% and 35% of the cap.)

There’s so much at play.

Before he reaches that point, Hayward will soon make his first playoff appearance since shooting 6-for-33 as the Jazz got swept by the Spurs in the first round his second year, 2012. The top of the Western Conference is daunting. Otherwise, Utah looks like the type of team poised to make a deep run.

This sets up to be a whirlwind finish for Hayward – through the playoffs, into award season and then to negotiating the contract of a lifetime.

Devin Booker drops 70 points for Suns in loss to Celtics (VIDEO)

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is just 20 years old. He’s a League Pass favorite, and indeed he should be a favorite in Phoenix for years to come. On Friday, Booker dropped 70 points — yes, 70 — in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Booker’s 70 points is the best outing of the season. It also made him the youngest player to ever reach 70 points.

His final stat line, as you might imagine, was ridiculous. Booker shot 21-of-40 from the field, going 4-of-11 on 3-pointers and a whopping 24-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Suns phenom also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists.

Despite the loss to Boston, 130-120, it’s still an incredible milestone for Phoenix and for Booker. There’s a bright spot out there for the Suns.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies to finish amazing alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Aaron Gordon may not have had the best dunk contest this year — apparently drones and dunks don’t mix well — but the guy can still get up and finish with the best in the league.

As he did on this alley-oop against Detroit.

Elfrid Payton had to throw a lob that would get over Andre Drummond, but how many guys in the league can get that high, reach back and finish that? Damn.

Former Hawk Pero Antic’s celebration accidentally punches teammate in face in Eruoleague (VIDEO)

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Former Atlanta Hawk Pero Antic is now playing for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, in case you were not aware.

Fenerbahce was facing Anadolu Efes in a EuroLeague game, it was tight late and former NBA player Ekpe Udoh was at the free throw line for Fenerbahce. He missed his second shot, but the rebound caromed out-of-bounds off an Anadolu Efes player. Antic was pumped.

Maybe a little too pumped.

Ouch.

That was Nikola Kalinic, by the way, the guy Antic now owes dinner to. Kalinic would like the dinner more than the hug and kiss he got from Antic right after the play.

Also, Anadolu Efes held on to win 80-77.

(Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie.)

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.