With players finally able to put ink to paper starting today following the conclusion of the NBA's audit moratorium yesterday, the Hornets have officially extended an offer sheet to Gordon Hayward, which he signed.
The prospective deal is worth $63 million over four years, with a player option on the final season of that contract.
The Hornets, looking to add wing talent on the offensive end to help maximize their chances while Al Jefferson peaks before he needs a new contract on the wrong side of 30, are eager to add Hayward's passing, shooting and overall offensive versatility. Though starter Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's defense was an invaluable part of the team's success last year, he only played 24 minutes per game, and the Hornets could stand to improve from his 29.4 percent shooting on jump shots.
The rub is that barring some unforeseen development, this contract is assuredly a massive overpay for Hayward, but a necessary one the Hornets (or any other team who wanted him) had to make. The Jazz had already said they'd match any offer sheet he signed, but the best way to test that and maximize their chances of signing him was for the Hornets to offer the most they could, which resulted in that $63 million, maximum contract deal.
Hayward is a very talented player, but his impact last year was quite limited due to an increasing role. He is not a player you run an offense through as a point forward, capable of creating offense for not only himself, but also everyone around him. He is a good passer with solid vision of the floor, but he can also be turnover-prone when given a larger burden of the offense to carry. Utah tried to do just that last year as his usage rate continued to climb since his beginning in the NBA. His efficiency went into a free-fall, dropping from 50.1 percent in effective field goal percentage to 45.4 percent, nearly a 10 percent drop in scoring efficiency (10 percent, not 10 percentage points). His three-point percentage took the hardest hit as he shot nearly 27 percent worse from behind the arc than in the previous year.
To be sure, the situation and role were not a great fit for Hayward's skill set. Given a more complementary role where he isn't relied on creating a team's offense but flowing within it could foster his development into a special player. Moving from the first option to third or even second should be a major boon to Hayward's offensive capabilities. But even then, there would be a lot of pressure to live up to this big contract, even though the onus is on the Hornets for offering it in their attempt to pry him from Utah.
And oh, how that contract is big. It's back-loaded, which means the financial impact will be lessened this season but increases until the $16.7 million in the last year. This year I estimated his salary at $14.8 million, which still gives the Hornets some solid space to sign a backup point guard.
Salary numbers via ShamSports
It gets a bit fuzzy after that when the Hornets face some tough decision that we cannot really speculate about: Will Kemba Walker get a contract extension before October 31? Assuming Bismack Biyombo gets a qualifying offer, what would the Hornets match to keep him? It's impossible to answer these right now, but the Hornets' cap space could be constricted by Hayward's $15 million a year deal, though they could make trades to help create more room. It's definitely not a bloated team salary at this point as much of the team is still on rookie scale contracts or good value deals.
The good news is that Hayward's young and could really improve the offense's flow with their inside-out ball movement between Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. Josh McRoberts filled that role well last year, so the Hornets could use some help recreating that this season. If the Jazz don't match, the Hornets at least are still building a very young team that looks to compete beyond just the immediate future.
In the meantime, the Hornets will have Hayward's nearly $15 million cap hold on their salary until Utah decides to match it, if they do. The clock begins at midnight tonight and the Jazz will have three days to decide.
Utah is still quite intent on matching the maximum contract offer, as Adrian Wojnarowski reports, so the Hornets will still negotiate and discuss with other free agents as backup decisions. If they're looking for a big talent should they lose out on Hayward, Lance Stephenson is someone they've been interested in. I don't think his fit is as good as Hayward's in Charlotte's roster, but his contract looks to be cheaper than $15 million a year and he's quite the scorer.
The other direction they could look at is to just play it cool and fill out the roster with good depth. They've been talking to Kris Humphries, Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts for their power forward and point guard openings, and they could make offers to bring back Chris Douglas-Roberts and Anthony Tolliver. It's not a sexy option, but it's there.