The Charlotte Hornets have swung for the fences with Gordon Hayward, a restricted free agent who is going to sign a four-year, $63-million contract with the team on Thursday.
That is according to The Observer's Rick Bonnell, who broke this story late Monday night. Hayward was in for a "recruiting" visit Monday, and the Hornets displayed his picture outside on the marquee of their arena and inside on every TV screen in the place.
So is Hayward really worth a max contract? Yes and no. Read Bonnell's excellent analysis for more on this.
The Hornets offered him all they could by NBA rules, because that is the only way they can possibly expect to wrest him away from Utah (which, with Marvin Williams also drawing Charlotte's interest, is in danger of turning into the Hornets' Triple A team).
I still expect the Jazz to match the offer, in which case the Hornets will strike out instead of hit a home run with this big swing (a sign-and-trade is also a possibility, and that compromise may also be the way this ends up going). But this obvious overpayment is about the only way you can get a guy who averages 16 points, five assists and five rebounds and who is healthy and only 24 years old.
I like it. I like the gamble. If the Jazz don't match -- and they are reportedly $30 million under the salary cap, with far more room than Charlotte -- then Hayward will make more than Al Jefferson and everyone else on the Hornets, and he obviously will not be their best player. That would be either Jefferson or point guard Kemba Walker, and Walker is going to command a similar max contract at some point.
But Jefferson and Walker want to win, and this is how you do it. You sign a guy like Hayward instead of a loose cannon like Lance Stephenson. You play Hayward more at shooting guard -- he can do either that or small forward, but if he stays at shooting guard more you can still use MKG's defensive prowess more effectively. He becomes more of a scoring threat immediately than Gerald Henderson is from outside, which gives Jefferson (who Hayward knows how to play with, having done so in Utah) more room inside.
Now the Jazz have said all along they are going to match whatever Hayward gets, but remember they also apparently balked at paying him $13 million a year at one point last season (and offered $12 million). This contract averages $15.75 million per year.
If the Jazz really want to mess with the Hornets, they will hold them hostage for the maximum of three days starting Thursday at 12:01 a.m. when the NBA contract moratorium is lifted and then say they are going to match at the last minute over the weekend. That will hurt the Hornets in terms of trying to sign someone else, because all their salary-cap freedom will be tied up with Hayward as of Thursday.
But that's OK. This is the way you do business in the NBA. The salaries are never going to work out perfectly, and some guys will be underpaid and some guys overpaid on every roster. Hayward is not a superstar, and this is superstar money. But if you are going to get better, this is the sort of gamble you must occasionally take.