There are some big names on the free agent radar next summer — Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kyle Lowry, and the list goes on and on — but the guy front offices not only like and think they might land is someone off a lot of fans’ radar:
Utah’s star wing is a borderline All-NBA level player expected to be at the heart of a breakout Jazz team (once he recovers from the broken finger that will sideline him around six weeks). Among the teams with an eye on him, his old college coach from Butler who has built a quality team in Boston — Brad Stevens. From the brilliant Zach Lowe of ESPN.
There is probably more buzz surrounding Hayward’s impending free agency than about Paul, Griffin, Kyle Lowry and other starrier names. Hayward is 26, in the meat of his prime, killing it at the thinnest position in the league. Utah waited for Charlotte to max him out last time around, and Hayward has a long memory. The Jazz have a ton of guys to pay, and if they down enough beers (just kidding, it’s Utah!), they might convince themselves they have the wing depth to withstand Hayward bolting. His beloved college coach runs a rising team with an easy roadmap to max cap space — and real interest in Hayward, per several league sources.
But if Utah makes a leap, the smart money is on Hayward sticking. The Jazz can offer a winning young core, an extra fifth season, and if the new CBA breaks right for them, a little more cash than home teams can dangle under the current deal.
Utah was ready to make the leap a year ago, but injuries derailed that plan. This year should be different because adding veterans that fit the system — George Hill, Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw — should help keep the Jazz afloat until Hayward returns.
If Hayward decides to look around next summer, there will be a long line of teams outside his door. And not just guys from Boston. He will have plenty of options.