After flirting with the Cleveland Cavaliers and being linked to the Phoenix Suns, restricted free agent Gordon Hayward has his max offer sheet. The Charlotte Hornets agreed to terms with the restricted free agent on a four-year, $63 million offer Tuesday night, which the Utah Jazz will have 72 hours to match, once it's signed when free agency officially begins Thursday.
What's next for Hayward, the Jazz and the Hornets? And what can other players learn from Hayward's handsome contract? Let's break it down.
To be clear, max money -- even if it's the smaller maximum for players in their first five seasons -- is rich for a player who has never contributed more than 5.2 wins above replacement player (WARP) in the NBA. Hayward will make more over the next four seasons than Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors, who posted more WARP this past season (14.4) than Hayward has in his entire career (13.5).
The problem is Utah can't simply go out and sign Lowry. For one, getting top-tier free agents to sign with a lottery team in a smaller market is always going to be a challenge. For another, veterans don't fit the Jazz's rebuilding timetable. Hayward, who is just 24, is a much better fit in Utah and offers the hope of growing into this contract over the next four seasons. Such prospects aren't available in free agency without overpaying.
From the Jazz's perspective, the money isn't a huge concern. If Utah matches, the team will still be able to clear $12 million in cap room, which is likely to be used to add assets in a trade like the Jazz made with the Golden State Warriors this past summer. Also, Hayward signing an offer sheet has the upside of limiting his raises to 4.5 percent per year -- less than the salary cap is likely to grow over the next few seasons, which means Hayward will take up proportionately less of the cap over time. (The downside is the offer sheet includes a trade kicker, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!, which makes it slightly more difficult to trade if Hayward is making less than the max possible salary as the cap increases.)
Ultimately, it doesn't make sense for a rebuilding team such as Utah to give up one of its best young players. The prospects behind Hayward in line for pay increases next season ( Alec Burks and Enes Kanter) are far less sure things. A max offer sheet will make the Jazz swallow hard, but it's what they must do.