The Jazz didn’t give Gordon Hayward a rookie-scale contract extension. They didn’t give him a contract in restricted free agency.
They told him to go get an offer sheet – and Hayward did, a four-year max deal with a player option from the Hornets. Utah matched, and Hayward returned.
He blossomed into a star and, when he became an unrestricted free agent three years later, left for the Celtics.
Did the Jazz’s handling of his previous contract negotiation bother him?
It lingered for maybe a little bit of time at the beginning of when I signed it. There was none of those feelings were there this time around.
Restricted free agency, it’s a little weird.
As a player, you’re sitting there thinking like, “What the hell?” You look at all these other players where teams are like, “He’s our guy.” Like, “We’re going to give him the max.” Blah, blah, blah. And I’ve got to go out and get one? Like, “Do you not believe in me?” Like, “Do you not feel like I’m the guy for you?”
From a team’s perspective, it’s the smartest thing to do. Like, “Why would we overpay you until somebody else makes us, essentially?” You know what I mean?
So, I can for sure see it from both sides. But restricted free agency is weird.
Even if Hayward were completely over Utah’s approach, it still contributed to him leaving.
Offer sheets can be for up to just four years, and Hayward got one with a player option. The Jazz could have signed him directly to a contract that would have kept him in Utah for five years, four if he insisted on a player option.
As the salary cap and Hayward’s production both swelled, he would have been a bargain. And as a free agent in 2018 or 2019, he would have been less likely to find a team as appealing as Boston with max cap space. He would have been more likely to re-sign with the Jazz, who would have had more time to show what a team led by him and Rudy Gobert could accomplish.
Maybe Utah should have seen Hayward’s ascent coming. All teams should have probably done a better job anticipating the effect of the new national TV contracts on the league’s landscape.
To a degree, this is hindsight bias, but the Jazz clearly erred three years ago. They paid the price this summer.