Gordon Hayward signed a four-year, $63 million offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets this off-season. The Utah Jazz matched the offer and will be bringing Hayward back on a maximum-level contract. Yesterday, Hayward spoke about the new reality of being a max player and the increased expectation that come with that label.
Via Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune, Hayward doesn’t feel the pressure to perform up to his contract, but wants to be judged by the team’s success instead:
“For me, I don’t think I have to live up to anything now,” he said. “They paid me what they wanted to pay me, and let’s go from there.”
“Oh, man. No pressure now,” Hayward said of his own game. “The pressure is trying to win. That’s the pressure.”
It’s an interesting approach by Hayward. On the one hand, it should be encouraging to Jazz fans Hayward seems relaxed after having secured a max contract, and he doesn’t feel the need to justify his contract on the court, which could be detrimental to the team. On the other hand, if the pressure is based on whether the team wins, then the strain is really on Hayward himself, as the Jazz have committed to him as a cornerstone of the franchise.
Last season, Hayward averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists, but shot a career low 41.3 percent from the field and just 30.4 percent from downtown (he’s a career 36.5 percent three-point shooter). Hayward also averaged a career high 36.4 minutes per game.
While the peripheral numbers are strong, the Jazz and their fans would be fair to expect more efficiency in his game. Utah is still in the rebuilding phase, but they’ve made huge financial commitments to both Hayward and Derrick Favors, who are the only two players signed to significant contracts that run through the 2017-18 season.
Aside from those two, the Jazz are still figuring out whether Enes Kanter, Trey Burke and Dante Exum can form the core of a team that can compete in the West in the near future.
By slotting Hayward in as a max salary player, there is an expectation for him to be the best player on the team. For the Jazz, they would prefer it if he was the best player on a contending team, which means Hayward will have to elevate his play. This goes back to his statement about not having to live up to anything. In actuality, he has a lot to live up to.
The Jazz won’t be competing for a playoff spot in the West next season, but there will be pressure and a different level of expectations on Hayward. Being a max player means the team is building around you, and they expect you to live up to that contract.
Even if Hayward tells himself differently, you can be sure he’ll understand the new reality facing him very soon.
What do you think?
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