Gordon Hayward‘s free agency watch hits day three on Monday, as he meets with the Utah Jazz following his meetings with the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. As the NBA world awaits his decision—the last big free agent domino this offseason—Hayward faces the choice between money, power and respect.
As the incumbent team, not only the Jazz offer Hayward the most annual money, they can also give the wing a full five-year max deal; the Heat and Celtics can only offer four years. The difference would amount to just about $45 million over the length of the contract.
While Utah can offer the best financial incentive, they may not offer the best path to a title for Hayward. The Jazz have only won four playoff games since his rookie year in 2011 and have the fourth-worst postseason winning percentage over that time. Not to mention that the threat of the Golden State Warriors hangs over the heads of the entire Western Conference.
Of all of Hayward’s suitors, the Celtics are likely the closest to having the power to win a title, as they made it to the conference finals last season and the franchise’s 17 titles are the most of any NBA team. Boston offers Hayward an opportunity to reunite with his college coach, Brad Stevens, who led his Butler squad to a National Championship appearance against Duke in 2010.
Stevens’ presence may alleviate some concerns about Hayward’s play style. Hayward ran pick-and-roll in 29 percent of his plays last season in Utah, while the Celtics only ran those plays less than 15 percent of the time, the seventh-lowest rate in the NBA. But having a ball-handler of Hayward’s quality on the wing may push the Celtics into more pick-and-roll looks, as they look to upgrade their 12th-ranked points per game production out of the small forward spot.
If Hayward wants the respect of becoming a superstar, then he shouldn’t look further than Miami. The Heat offer the opportunity for him to step in and become the primary option on offense while being flanked by Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. For a team that just missed the playoffs a year ago, Hayward could be a huge potential upgrade to the Heat’s weak small forward spot.
In contrast to the Celtics, the Heat ran pick-and-roll nearly 19 percent of the time, the eighth-most in the league, and Whiteside would give Hayward an elite finisher inside off of those plays. Miami not only benefits from having a top coach in Erik Spoelstra, but the presence of team president Pat Riley gives them a living legend recruiting Hayword to South Beach. Riley has always had his superstars, from Magic Johnson to Patrick Ewing to Miami’s big three, and Hayward could be next.