Utah Jazz don’t want Gordon Hayward to leave. But they’ll have to be
After years of meticulous planning, rearranging personnel and stockpiling assets, the biggest decision in the biggest summer of Dennis Lindsey’s time as general manager of the Utah Jazz will ultimately be out of his control. The team established itself as an up-and-comer this season, winning 51 games and its first playoff series in seven years. But, at present, the franchise’s future hangs on the decision 27-year-old Gordon Hayward, the Jazz’s All-Star forward and expected free-agent-to-be, will have to make in July.
“It goes without saying that every fiber of our collective being, the soul of the Utah Jazz, wants him back,” Lindsey said recently. “We think it’s a great fit.”
Behind the scenes, however, the Jazz are certainly preparing contingency plans, bracing for the worst, hoping to avoid a doomsday scenario for a rising franchise should their star player decide to leave Utah. Hayward led the Jazz in scoring in each of the past three seasons, developing into one of the game’s elite wing players. He averaged 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds a game. By one metric, the Jazz played like a 54 win team whenever he was on the court, and like a 45-win team whenever he wasn’t. Replacing him would be anything but easy.
Nevertheless, here are some possible Plan Bs, should worse come to worst for the Jazz:
The Jazz own four picks (24, 30, 42, 55) in the upcoming draft. This class is believed to be one of the deepest in recent years, which bodes particularly well for the Jazz given Lindsey’s success turning late first-round picks (Rodney Hood and Rudy Gobert) into major contributors. Even if Lindsey were to somehow move into the Top 10 of the draft, a costly if not impossible endeavor, he’d be unlikely to find someone to fill Hayward’s shoes right away. Still, the general manager has some options for either bolstering the depth around his All-Star forward or providing some future scoring punch around Rudy Gobert should Hayward bolt for Boston or elsewhere. Donovan Mitchell, shooting guard, Louisville The Jazz really like him as an athletic guard who can play both spots in the backcourt. Mitchell can score and defend. He’s a character guy and wants to play in Utah. But, will he be there at 24?
Frank Jackson, point guard, Duke The Jazz are certainly intrigued with the former Lone Peak star. They see him in the same light as Mitchell: A combination guard with athleticism who can score. Jackson is out with a broken foot until July, but the injury isn’t expected to negatively impact his draft stock. Jonathan Jeanne, center, France At 7-foot-2, Jeanne is raw, but has a bunch of upside. He also has the same agent as Rudy Gobert. The difference? Jeanne’s camp thinks he can play some power forward and even co-exist with Gobert in the same frontcourt. A big caveat: The Vertical reported on Thursday afternoon that Jeanne has been diagnosed with a potential career-ending genetic disorder, and further added that he is not expected to receive medical clearance moving forward to continue working out for teams ahead of the draft. Trade targets
It is unlikely the Jazz will keep all four picks, so expect Lindsey to be an active trade partner on June 22, as he looks to combine assets (and perhaps his $13 million in cap space) into a package that could augment his roster if Hayward stays and help build it back up should Hayward leave.
Cory Joseph, point guard, Toronto Raptors The Jazz have $13 million in cap space that needs to be used by July 1. Locking up a point guard by then is an option. Joseph isn’t a world-beater. But he could be attainable for little more than the cap room, and that could give the Jazz the freedom to move more pieces around the roster. Jimmy Butler, shooting guard, Chicago Bulls It’s a pie-in-the-sky scenario, but if the Jazz want to go for broke and cash in all of their chips, he’s a guy who could be attainable. Indiana’s Paul George is another in this boat, but he’s entering the last year of his contract. Butler has two years remaining on his deal, plus a player option, so there’s some security there. Danny Green, small forward, San Antonio Spurs Green doesn’t put up huge numbers, but he could provide help on the wing. And if the Spurs decide they want to clear cap space, say to get in on the race for point guard Chris Paul, perhaps there is a deal to be made with Utah.