The Jazz said they would match any offer an opposing team would make to Gordon Hayward and they did not lie. With about 36 hours still remaining on the clock before their decision had to be in before the deadline, Utah notified the Hornets that they would indeed match Charlotte's 4-year, $63 million offer sheet.
It should come as no surprise that this happened, as such a result had been reported for months as Hayward's free agency future began to come into question. Though it seems somewhat foolish in the context of their contract extension negotiations last year.
They had been unable to sign an extension last year as each side couldn't reconcile their differences in perceived monetary value, with Hayward reportedly looking for $13 million per year and the Jazz unwilling to budge past $12 million per year on the four-year extension. And now, one season later after Hayward had as his least efficient scoring year of his career, Hayward got an even better deal out of the Jazz with about $15.75 million per year. All told, the Jazz misread their financial chances and will end up with $11 million more in salary over four years than what Hayward had asked for months ago. I'm not sure what changed -- maybe they would have been more open to him leaving if they had a top-2 pick in the draft, maybe they were entertaining trades until they realized they really wanted to keep him, I don't know -- but they ended up paying much more than had they just made the extension.
The Hornets had completely bought into Hayward's talents and really wanted him. When Mark Bartelstein said the Hornets "rolled out the red carpet", he wasn't kidding.
- held a Skype session between Hayward and Michael Jordan
- played a video of Starcraft, a favorite video game of Hayward, with Hayward put into the game on the jumbotron
- had four different statistical analysts make presentations showing how Hayward would excel in the Hornets' offense
- propositioned possible marketing strategies
- had Steve Clifford and Dell Curry meet with Hayward
- had dinner with Hayward at Rich Cho's house with Al Jefferson
Clearly the Hornets had a vision that Hayward would be a great addition to their team. Based on the outcome of negotiations with Josh McRoberts and how much they bought into Hayward's talents, it seems the best case scenario for the Hornets' free agency was to sign Hayward to that max contract and to get McRoberts for the full mid-level exception. Needless to say, they have whiffed on both counts, one outside of their control, and one they could but one that was contingent on the former.
I also was extremely intrigued by the dynamics of money in this situation, and how we think about player salary.
Often times we view a player's individual salary in a vacuum: that a player either lives up to their contract or doesn't; that the onus is on the player solely and that we see the individual impact only, their statistical success, shooting efficiency and whatnot. Those things are easier to quantify and compare to other salaries and make quantitative assessments.
But we're missing out on the team aspect when we think about salaries. If a player's talents are strong and versatile enough to be a catalyst clearly he's performing at a high level while fitting in the offense's schemes and flow, in addition to good individual performance. This can change, of course, as rosters change and perhaps their fit doesn't work as well and doesn't succeed in the team dynamic as imagined, like, say, Boris Diaw's last contract from Phoenix to Charlotte.
Regardless, the Hornets believed Hayward to be a player like that capable to take them to a new level, ostensibly worth the max contract they could offer at $63 million over four years. It might have been a bit even more than needed, but such a contract buoyed with disincentives for the Jazz to match were necessary to maximize their chances to get Hayward from Utah.
Unfortunately for the Hornets brass, it just wasn't enough.