Evaluating Gordon Hayward's Options

Hayward will have no shortage of suitors when free agency opens up. Let's look at some of the factors which may play into his upcoming decision.

If you're a roundball fanatic, you're probably well aware of Gordon Hayward's rise to fame in his days at Butler. In just years, he helped take the Bulldogs from a solid mid-major to a 59-11 record across his two seasons with consecutive tournament appearances -- the latter of the two ended a Hayward heave away from a national championship in 2010.

This collegiate success led to the Utah Jazz selecting Hayward with the ninth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

But, before all this success, Hayward was a nobody to the sports world. As an ungraded, unranked recruit in ESPN's 2008 recruiting class, he didn't hold many cards. He was offered scholarships by only three schools (all within the state of Indiana): Butler, Purdue and IUPUI.

Fast forward nine years later, and the dude has options. In fact, he has millions and millions of options.

As an unrestricted free agent this summer, Hayward is one of the NBA's most coveted players on the market. Among the teams vying for his services -- per reports -- are the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets, not to mention the incumbent Jazz.

With competition like that, you know the man is about to get paid. All of the potential suitors would love to have Hayward, but which teams makes the most sense for him? Let's break it down, looking at the various reasons behind the decision.

Chasing the Money

Because Hayward failed to make an All-NBA squad this season, he's no longer eligible for a super-max contract that would've netted him a cool $207 million over five years if he were to remain in Utah. For that reason, this is less cut-and-dry. Even still, the Jazz hold the upper hand in terms of money.

According to Hoops Rumors' Luke Adams, with seven years of experience, Hayward can receive a five-year deal worth an estimated $177.5 million with the Jazz. Based on those same calculations, that's one more year and roughly $46 million more than a new team could offer Hayward this offseason.

Having already missed out on $30 million in the aftermath of this year's All-NBA selections, it would be hard for a 27-year-old to turn down another $2.6 million per season.

It's like saying "No, I wouldn't like 115 more Lamborghinis" (over the course of five years). I don't know about you, but I don't know many people who would pass on that offer.

Needless to say, if Hayward wants the big money he should just leave his bags unpacked.

Creating the Most Intrigue

With yesterday's blockbuster trade for Chris Paul, the Rockets announced that they're going all-in for 2017. So why stop there?

Rumor has it that the Rockets were looking to unload Ryan Anderson's contract before the Paul deal. That means Rockets general manager Daryl Morey may be looking to add a third star to the fold -- and who better than Hayward?

Even if the Rockets can't find a trade partner for Anderson, if Hayward were to let his intentions known to the Jazz (and this is assuming his intentions were to go to Houston), it's possible that Utah would take Anderson, rather than nothing, in return. Call it a CP3-type deal, if you will.

If things were to shake out this way, Houston could start Hayward alongside Paul, James Harden, Trevor Ariza (at the four) and Clint Capela. If -- and, again, I say if -- this were to happen, the Rockets would boast a lineup that includes four of the league's top 30 players in 2017, according to our player power rankings. which are sorted by our nERD metric.

Player nERD NBA Rank
James Harden 17.8 T-2nd
Chris Paul 12.8 13th
Gordon Hayward 12.0 15th
Clint Capela 6.1 T-29th

To put it another way, the starting five's combined nERD of 49.6 would be 1.6 higher than the Golden State Warriors' starting five (48.0 nERD).

A powerhouse to rival the reigning champions out in the West? Sign me up.

Putting Up Numbers

If Hayward wants to continue posting the kind of stat lines he did in Utah, his best chance to do that will be in -- wait for it -- Utah.

Let's look at it through a fantasy lens. According to Basketball Monster, Hayward finished this season as fantasy basketball's 33rd-ranked player in nine-cat leagues. He was a plus player in points, free throw percentage, threes, assists and field goal percentage. For a dude on the league's slowest-paced team, that's quite an accomplishment.

What if Hayward were to go elsewhere, though? Would he still be a third-round commodity in season-long? Usage rates would say no.

While it's true that this isn't an exact science since we are talking hypotheticals, we know is that Hayward isn't your average spot-up three-point shooter. He's not an Otto Porter-like small forward because his effectiveness stems from the ball being in his hands.

Since the 2012-13 season, Hayward -- according to Basketball Reference -- has had a usage rate of at least 22.1% in each of his five campaigns. In chronological order, his usage rates have gone 22.1%, 23.1%, 26.2%, 25.7% and 27.6%, with this year's rate representing a career-high. As you can see, he's accustomed to using with roughly a quarter of his team's possessions while on the floor. In fact, he has led Utah in usage rate in each of the last three seasons.

Clearly, Hayward has been and would continue to be the top option in Utah. If he were to make the move to Houston, Miami or Boston, it's safe to say that would not be the case. All three teams are already home to high-usage players.

Team Player Usage
Houston James Harden 34.2%
Boston Isaiah Thomas 34.0%
Miami Goran Dragic 27.1%
Miami Dion Waiters 26.3%
Houston Chris Paul 24.4%
Miami Hassan Whiteside 22.7%
Boston Avery Bradley 21.9%

In Houston, Paul and Harden are going to run the show. Hayward would almost certainly take on a Kevin Love-like third role with the Rockets, so his points and assists numbers would take a dive.

The issue with Miami isn't so much superstar talent. Rather, it's a combination of priority players like Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside. When on the floor this season, the three combined for a usage rate of 76.1%, which doesn't leave a lot of room for others since they make up two-thirds of the Miami starting lineup. If the Heat let Waiters walk, though, that could be another story. But, until then, Hayward would have a hard time being the same fantasy stud in South Beach that he is now.

Boston is probably the only team on which Hayward could dominate the ball for portions of the game. While Isaiah Thomas does his thing, Avery Bradley is the only other starter with a usage of 20% or higher. After that, Jae Crowder's all the way down at 17%.

The usage might be there in Boston (that is, if Paul George doesn't join the Celtics, too), and the pace might even help, but Hayward is Utah's number one weapon. It's much more murkier as we discuss his outlook elsewhere, so the edge here has to go to Utah.

Going for a Ring

According to Westgate's Jeff Sherman, yesterday's blockbuster trade created a shift in the SuperBook's 2018 NBA title odds.

At 100/1 odds, we can forget about Miami and Utah in this conversation. Both teams are likely playoff teams for 2018, but right now the Celtics and new-look Rockets are on equal ground behind the Warriors, Cavaliers and Spurs.

As far as winning a title, it's a tough choice between the two. However, the Eastern Conference is historically worse than the Western Conference -- and this upcoming year should be no different (according to the odds).

If Hayward chooses Boston over Houston (and all the other possibilities), he would not only avoid the Warriors until the Finals, he and the Celtics would also be a close second to the Cavs in the East. In the event Thomas is successful in recruiting Blake Griffin or Danny Ainge lands George in a deal, Boston could leapfrog San Antonio for the third-best odds.

Either way, Hayward could join the league's third- or fourth-best team heading into the new season if he bolts to Houston or Boston.

Leaving a Legacy

For some guys, winning a title isn't everything. Or maybe, more accurately, winning a title just anywhere isn't everything.

For many, it's about winning a title where they're at. It's about proving themselves to be the player the franchise thought they'd be when it drafted them. In that regard, Hayward is being pulled in that direction by local teachers and students alike.

So, if Hayward were to choose the road so seldom traveled these days (ahem, Kevin Durant) and take up the challenge of trying to lead Utah to the NBA Finals, who can blame him. It's his decision -- and with all these good options, he can't really make a bad choice -- now he just has to make it.