The Jazz are making progress on a contract extension for small forward Gordon Hayward that would be worth more than the four-year, $49 million deal power forward Derrick Favors received from the team Saturday, according to ESPN.com. Utah has until Oct. 31 to complete a deal for Hayward, who would become a restricted free agent next summer if no agreement is struck by then.
Besides Favors, four other 2010 first-round picks have landed extensions that will kick in next season. Wizards point guard John Wall and Pacers small forward Paul George signed max deals as "designated players," worth upwards of $80 million over five years. Kings center DeMarcus Cousins got $62 million on a four-year deal, the maximum allowed to any non-designated player. Bucks center Larry Sanders agreed to a four-year, $44 million extension.
Hayward is a little tricky to evaluate within the context of that group because, like Favors, he hasn't had the same opportunity. Cousins led Sacramento in usage rate for each of his three seasons, playing perhaps too large a part in the Kings' offense. Wall, though pulled in and out of the lineup by injury, was allowed to work as a first-option creator for the Wizards. George stepped into a much larger offensive role for the Pacers last season, on top of his already substantial defensive responsibilities. Sanders is the one non-Jazz extension player whose deal is a bit more prospective, though even he assumed an important, clearly defined job as an interior defender for Milwaukee.
Hayward, on the other hand, has been a versatile and deferential contributor -- a complement in an offense built around the post-up savvy of Al Jefferson. At best, Hayward was third (behind Jefferson and Paul Millsap) in the pecking order of a team that didn't ask its perimeter players to create often. Utah's offense highlighted Hayward's cutting and shooting without fully exploring his abilities off the dribble. Coach Tyrone Corbin did well to find more for Hayward to do last season, but the structure of the team never allowed for the 23-year-old forward to be anything more than a supporting part.
That will soon change, with or without a contract extension. Jefferson and Millsap are gone, clearing the way for both Hayward, 23, and Favors, 22, to be more involved in the creation of shots and the flow of possessions. Between the two, Hayward is unequivocally better equipped for the task. He has the court awareness, handle and passing ability to stretch out his game, potentially to the point of validating a deal of this magnitude. Because of the confines of Hayward's previous role and the fickle nature of basketball talent in general, the Jazz can't yet know whether this kind of potential investment will be entirely worthwhile. All they can do is make an intimately educated guess based on Hayward's skills, personality and substantial market appeal, a combination that would seem to put an extension squarely in the team's best interests.