You might be expecting this to be an article on the deal the Pistons just signed Jodie Meeks to. And that would be a good guess. Meeks is nowhere near deserving over $6 million per season. But that is not the craziest thing we’ve seen this free agency. Today, on day two of free agency, the Cavaliers offered Gordon Hayward a max deal. To be fair, it’s not a MAX max.
It’s a lower level max deal since Hayward is in his first post-rookie contract. But that is just an issue of semantics. What is perplexing, is how a player who shot 30% from 3 and 41% from the field is worth a 4 year/$63 million deal. Especially when that player is marketed as a shooter. Hayward is not like Kyle Korver. Hayward’s game is much more rounded out and can do lots of things on the court, but more than anything, he is supposed to be a good shooter. As CBS Sports’ Matt Moore puts it, Hayward is pretty good at everything, but elite at nothing. That’s fine. That’s just another way of saying he’s a versatile player–not a speciality guy. But there is the very legitimate question of how good your team can be, especially in the West, if your two highest paid players are Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. Both guys are probably the third or fourth best players on very good teams. But right, restricted free agency. This is how it works: you have to overpay to pry someone away.
In order to snatch a restricted player, you must overpay. That’s not the question. The question is how much is too much for a guy like Hayward? We saw Avery Bradley get 4 years/$32 million today, and Hayward is on all accounts, a better, more complete player than Bradley. So, if Bradley is making $8 million per season, it’s fair to think that Hayward deserves around the $12 million range, per season. The Cavs are supposedly offering a deal though, that would pay him over $15 million per season. That’s crazy. It makes a little more sense for the Cavs than the Jazz. The Cavs are a great fit for Hayward. He could slot in between Kyrie and Wiggins very well. Hayward is unselfish and young, still only 24 years old. And the Cavs are trying to win now. The East is bad, and becoming a top 4 seed isn’t that hard. Going after a guy like Hayward at least makes more sense than holding out for the ever-unlikely LeBron pipe dream. The fit is not the question though–it’s the money.
Hayward is young, but not so young that you’d expect his game to drastically expand in the next few years. He’ll definitely improve, but his game right now is about what it will be in a few years. He’ll improve his shooting and be a versatile piece. Even more, he is a high character guy, unlike the player he’d probably be replacing, Dion Waiters. There’s one question though about how good he really is. Some people will defend Hayward’s poor stats this past season, saying he was on an awful team that drained his stats. That may be true, but the opposite may be true as well. Often, players on bad teams are given the green light and get the chance to inflate their stats. It’s tough to tell.
The Jazz will be tempted to match any offer for Hayward, but not for the right reason. The Jazz have little to really build on right now. They have a nucleus of Exum-Burks-Favors-Kanter. Exum is a complete wildcard. Burks is decent. Favors is probably never going to be the All-Star that he was projected to be out of college. And Kanter is little more than a slightly above-average role player. The thinking goes that Utah is a small-market team (true) that can’t attract big free agents. Thus they need to overpay to keep guys like Hayward. The logic here is not really valid. It’s similar to NFL scouts that will go after an alluring prospect because ‘he’ll fill seats.’ You know what else fills seats? Winning. If a player won’t really help you win, then he’s not worth it. Hayward is a good player. Maybe very good. But just because you’re a small-market team that struggles to attract superstars does not mean by any stretch that you need to overpay hardly-above-average players. The Jazz should let Hayward walk. Start over. I know, I know: that’s the worst thing to hear for an NBA franchise, especially one that has been supposedly starting over ever since Deron Williams left. But Hayward is simply not worth it. At best, they could sign-and-trade him to get some value back.
Restricted free agents get overpaid. That’s just how it works. But a small-market team wins by avoiding sticking to faulty logic. No, you don’t overpay mediocre players ‘just because.’ That is precisely what you avoid doing. You draft well, be careful who pay large, and develop your players. Sort of like what the Marlins did in baseball for awhile. Hayward will never be the best player on a playoff team in the West. Let him go, and as shaky as it sounds, in Exum you must trust. It will set the Jazz back a few years, sure, but they’re already years away from really contending in the West. If the Jazz were a 42-45 win team, this would be much more difficult. But they stink right now. No need to overpay a second or third-tier player at best, just to get to 30 wins.
And as a general rule of thumb: do the opposite of the Cavs. That will usually set you in the right direction.