Yes, it was too bad Utah couldn't have held on to Gordon Hayward instead of losing him to Boston in free agency. The Jazz had something good percolating in Salt Lake City but lost an all-star player with no compensation, a monumental setback for a small-market franchise.
But in analyzing what happened to Utah, it's easy to see how the Trail Blazers have taken a much smarter approach to building a franchise in a market that's not likely to attract premium free agents.
The Jazz messed up with Hayward. They blew it. And forget market size and all those alibis, Hayward should still be in a Utah uniform. Back in 2014, the Jazz had the chance to sign him to a five-year rookie extension and did not do that. Sure, Hayward had not yet shown he would become an all-star, but his career arc was on the rise. I'm not certain whether the Utah front office was simply penny pinching or just didn't know how talented Hayward was -- but really, a big underrated skill for those operating a team in the NBA is knowing your own players and their potential better than anyone else does.
And when you draft and develop players with all-star potential, you better be 100 percent, rock-solid sure they don't blossom someplace else. You just cannot afford to make mistakes with players you have drafted and had on your roster for multiple seasons.
Utah could have signed Hayward to that extension at five years and $80 million but sat back, hoping to re-sign him on the cheap. However Charlotte came in and offered him a four-year, $63 million deal with the final season a player option. Of course, Utah matched the offer -- but as you can see, it cost the Jazz two years of Hayward and those two seasons could have turned out to be successful enough to convince him to stay in Utah even longer.
Now do you understand why Neil Olshey took no such chance with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum? They are tied to the Trail Blazers for as long as contractually possible, though the 2020-21 season. And oh, by the way, all those other contracts Portland signed last summer -- Maurice Harkless, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner -- that people complain about, had strategic value. The Trail Blazers preserved cap space by making those deals before signing McCollum to his extension. Had they not made those deals when they did, very little cap space would have been left to fill the roster after CJ's deal was signed.
And seriously, do you think Portland could have signed a free agent this summer as talented as McCollum? No way. In a situation like Portland's, it's best to draft wise, trade smart and make sure your key players don't get away.
Because replacing them can prove to be very difficult.