The Utah Jazz are on the cusp of having to make some difficult decisions with their veterans--a tough thing to do right after you’ve had your best draft haul in years. But, Jazz forward Gordon Hayward is a restricted free agent, meaning Utah can still match any offer that any NBA team submits to Hayward’s agent.
There’s still a chance that Hayward could receive a one-year max offer from another NBA team which the Jazz would be forced to match--meaning Hayward could be as good as gone before he’s even reached the apex of his career.
That the Jazz selected small forward Rodney Hood of Duke with the No. 23 pick at the 2014 NBA Draft is a signal the franchise knows the possibility exists that Hayward could leave via free agency.
Boston, Phoenix and Charlotte appear to be Hayward's top suitors--with Boston being potentially testy because coach Brad Stevens was also Hayward’s coach at Butler University, and Phoenix is the place where former Jazz legend and assistant coach Jeff Hornacek now plies his trade as Suns head coach. Charlotte is an up and coming team that has tons of cap room and a need for a small forward--not to mention former Jazzman Al Jefferson.
All three teams are probably going to make a serious run at Hayward before all is said and done. And if Hayward ends up with another team, what more can the Jazz do to help themselves during this free agency period that begins in less than 24 hours?
Or, what if power forward Marvin Williams departs as reported by several media outlets? Fear not, Jazz fans, for this writer has you covered. Here are your top five potential replacements for Hayward or Williams--if either or both were to leave via free agency.
Boris Diaw, power forward
Though Diaw is listed as a power forward, he is an adept passer of the basketball--which makes him dangerous at about three or four different positions.
His versatility would fit very well into new coach Quin Snyder’s system--which will likely be patterned after Diaw’s former employer, the World Champion San Antonio Spurs.
Diaw scored nine points per game for San Antonio--but he also grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists. If Marvin Williams and his nine point- five board game leave Utah, Diaw could be a very capable replacement.
Luol Deng, small forward
Deng did not have a good second half of the season in Cleveland after coming over from the Chicago Bulls. That said, Deng still put up solid numbers, scoring 16 points, pulling down five rebounds and nabbing three steals per contest.
If ever there was a game changer that the Jazz could steal, it’s this guy--one who happens to hail from Snyder’s neck of the woods, Duke University.
If Deng wasn’t a candidate to play in Utah before, he certainly is now--especially if Hayward takes more money and runs. He’s also a top target of the Atlanta Hawks, Snyder’s last employer.
Evan Turner, small forward
Turner is an intriguing possibility, simply because he showed such promise at Philadelphia--before he was traded to the Indiana Pacers, that is.
Then the wheels fell off the Turner Perennial NBA All-Star bus, as the former Indiana Hoosiers great only played in 27 games, averaging just seven measly points per game. You feel that if Turner found the right team he could still be that All-Star talent--and the Jazz could be that team, for a price.
Turner also has an $8.7 million qualifying offer that the Jazz must submit in order to be in play. But, if Hayward departs, the Jazz could players in such a sweepstakes.
Trevor Ariza, small forward
Ariza is another interesting possibility because of his interest in the Lakers--which essentially means that because Snyder is now the Jazz head coach it puts him in play in Utah.
Snyder was also a former Lakers assistant--but the real reason Ariza could be a Jazzman is twofold: he is a great wing defender and he can shoot from deep.
Both are traits that the Jazz sorely need on their roster. Ariza scored 14 points per game and pulled down six boards for the Washington Wizards last season.
Pau Gasol, power forward
This is obviously a stretch suggestion. Before you laugh too hard, realize that Gasol played for Snyder when Snyder was a Lakers assistant.
As previously mentioned, having Snyder as Jazz coach changes some things. One is that Gasol would probably understand the concepts that Snyder threw at his young charges. The other is that Gasol would assume a leadership role--albeit low-key as that’s Gasol’s nature--to help guide the young team.
The final piece to this fantasy is that the Jazz would have to shell out at least $19 million initially to lure Gasol to Utah--and that’s probably at the lower end of the pay scale. Is Gasol worth it? He averaged 17 points and almost 10 rebounds last season, better numbers than anyone had on the Jazz roster.