Gordon Hayward flying up in stature, toward contract conundrum

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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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.