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Gordon Hayward's new contract may not be the worst thing (even if it totally will be)

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Gordon Hayward readies his options. (Getty Images)

The idea that Gordon Hayward will make $63 million over four years in either Charlotte or Salt Lake City, two of the NBA’s smallest markets, should turn people off.

While everyone waits for those oft-referenced LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony dominos to drop, for someone like Hayward to take advantage of what could possibly be characterized as a frustrated and impatient free agent market and make a maximum salary that large. It shouldn’t be infuriating, but it should raise eyebrows and give a come-hither stare to further inspection.

The Charlotte Hornets are tired of waiting, they’re tired of waiting on you (read: LeBron, Carmelo, Bosh, Hinrich), and they decided to move on and make what on the surface looks like an absolutely indefensible offer to current Utah Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward. The former Butler product is currently a restricted free agent, after turning down a reported four-year $52 million deal from the Jazz last fall, and he’s coming off of his toughest year as a pro.

Not “worst,” or “most disappointing,” but “toughest.” The fourth-year player was placed into a role that he absolutely could not handle – that of a high usage scorer, working on a rebuilding team that desperately needed someone to create shots. Hayward was not terrible in the role, but he wasn’t someone trending to the price Charlotte has promised to pay.

To most that deigned to tune into or re-watch Utah Jazz games, Gordon did not look like someone who was worth anywhere near eight figures a season in 2013-14, much less someone who could be paid nearly $17 million dollars in 2017-18. The stereotype of Hayward working as some overmatched and misplaced wing helper on a team looking to tank – a squad featuring two slowly developing big men and an overarching rookie point guard – wasn’t far off. At times, it was uncomfortable to take in.

In an offseason where the phrase “pay cut” seems as uncomfortable and as common as “maxed out,” Charlotte’s reach to make Hayward a member of the franchise’s burgeoning crew looks like a step backward. A nod to a time when Michael Jordan ran things from both boardroom and 11th hole, some 900 yards removed from enjoying an overpriced canned lager from a cart and too-strong stogie at the 9th hole. A reminder that general manager Rich Cho doesn’t have complete autonomy; in ways that don’t resemble the usual, “the GM never has the final say”-sort of practice.

What if this works, though? For either side?

This is the typical midsummer preening, when every team is tied for first place and your favorite squad is just two trades (with the Philadelphia 76ers, usually) away from signing LeBron. This could go beyond what we already know about Gordon Hayward, though. What we’ve seen and also what we’ve deduced from both his box score and advanced statistics and those little Flash-driven boxes that remind us of what we missed last winter.

Sometimes a change of scenery works, even if the scenery choices are your ex-roommate’s backing at his one-man show that details his frustrations growing up with a father who seemed diffident (Utah), or a high school production of ‘Our Town’ that recently managed to get a nice write-up in the local paper and a possible trip to Florida as a reward (Charlotte).

For those that didn’t want anything to do with watching the Utah Jazz last season, we’ll try to keep this brief.

Any time that Gordon Hayward is asked to do more offensively, especially in the scoring realm, he has faltered. The man took over three and a half three-pointers a game last season, and made just over one a contest. He can pass his tail off, but he is not much of a rebounder despite his athletic gifts. He wears down as the game moves along, and tends to be left without legs after a long-rebound back and forth that sees either team moving quickly up and down the court after miss after miss after miss.

When you play for Utah or even the playoff-ready Hornets, you will be part of miss after miss after miss. Throw in Hayward’s defensive frustrations, despite his effort and length, and it’s hard to justify (breathe deep) four years and $63 million.

Until you open the windows and remember that everyone is tied for first, and that summer is in full bloom.

Hayward entered last season shooting just over 40 percent from long range on his career. His usage rate in 2012-13 was not that far off from what he had to contribute last season, and he still put up 41 percent from long range in 2012-13 despite the fact that Mo Williams and Jamaal Tinsley had to work as his primary point guards. He is far more than a catch-and-shoot demon, given the right spacing, and his free throw rate speaks of someone that can contribute something far more efficiently if the ball just weren’t in his hands so damn much.

Charlotte already boasts Al Jefferson, the former Jazz teammate that helped Hayward toward his stellar three-point shooting for his first three seasons. It has a point guard in Kemba Walker that needs to make the easy skip pass to an obvious teammate, rather than the Chris Paul-esque dish that nobody saw coming. It has a rookie in P.J. Hairston that knows how to play the pro game with a fellow ham-and-egger in Hayward, another rook in Noah Vonleh that can use all the obvious targets he can find when his post up chance breaks down, and a cap future that doesn’t reek of MJ’s cigar butts.

The team will watch as Gerald Henderson rightfully opts out of his contract next summer to attempt to find a Klay Thompson-esque contract that he doesn’t deserve, and Charlotte would be correct to let Henderson walk if he finds something that nearly doubles the $6 million he’s set to make in 2015-16. It will probably attempt to convince Al Jefferson to opt out of his $13.5 million deal next summer in order to take on a smaller but longer contract that should ably pay the touch-driven big man for several more years. It will pay Michael Kidd-Gilchrist an MLE-sized portion as his rookie contract dictates, but that might be worth it even if his shooting woes sustain. Kemba Walker’s extension will also factor in.

Otherwise, this is a clean cap sheep. Save for the part about Gordon Hayward making a ton of money.

Utah? They’re not that different.

Derrick Favors will start to run with that four-year, $48 million contract next season, and Enes Kanter’s tricky future with the Jazz will still have to be figured out, but beyond that the team’s cap figures are promising. The team has heaps of draft picks, second-year point man Trey Burke will be making less than half the league’s average salary for the next three seasons, and there is also the question of 2014-15 rookie Dante Exum.

Exum, one Jazz hopeful would think, could turn Hayward into a star. Moving without the ball in a fabulous triptych with Burke, creating havoc in delayed transition and pushing the ball all along the way. Yes, Exum is young and both Burke (22 years of age) and Hayward are a full step ahead of him, but with cap space and picks and potential in good supply, that might be worth splattering your cap sheet with Gordon Hayward making an average of $15.7 million a year while this young crew figures it out.

The problem probably isn’t this current contract, though. It’s the next one.

Hayward will be 28 when this deal runs out, and unless the young man turns into a laughingstock or he fails to build upon the first three years (not including 2013-14) of his career, he’ll be a sought-after prospect as he enters his prime. Television revenues will grow between now and 2018 and the eventual Hoverboard-led economy will clearly once again make future President Jon Hamm’s America an economic force to be feared, but the same set of circumstances could also force teams to take a long, hard look at Hayward in the summer of 2018.

Or, as Charlotte just did, a long, optimistic look at what he could bring to a team in a different setting.

Few of us thought Gordon Hayward was an eight-figure a year player last fall, when Utah wanted to re-sign him to more than that, and Hayward responded with the worst year of his career. It’s just fine to scoff at Charlotte’s four-year, $63 million offer, and Utah’s likely eventual matching of that offer.

What if – appalling optimism and Twitter hardy-har-aside – it works out? For either burgeoning franchise, much less Hayward’s significant gifts, it would be nice to see.

(Even if we’d never pay that dude that much.)

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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