"I think going from 20 to 30 to 40 wins, we're trending in the right direction," he said. "I just want to win and be a part of a winning team. I think we're headed that way. I'll cross that bridge when I get there as far as the contract."
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, meanwhile, is already studying the road map to that bridge and beyond. The GM wears myriad hats he is part talent evaluator, part market analyst and he's on the precipice of a bubble. Years of more hits than misses in the draft have helped the Jazz amass an enviable wealth of young talent, and the time is coming soon when they'll need to be paid.
The Jazz have five players under the age of 25 who will be out of contract either next summer or the summer after that and headed for sizable raises: Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood and Danté Exum the team's projected starting lineup for next season. Point guard Trey Burke, who was relegated to the end of the bench late in the season, has one more year on his rookie contract, too.
And these new deals will be negotiated as general managers around the league try to navigate a deluge of new revenue to the NBA that will dramatically increase the league's salary cap and, in turn, players' salaries. A new nine-year broadcasting agreement will bring in a reported $24 billion for the league. The influx will mean an increase in the cap from about $70 million this season to a reported $92 million next season and $110 million in 2017-18.
That's in time for the summer Hayward will be able to opt out of his deal. The forward who signed a max deal with Charlotte worth about $16 million a year in the summer of 2014 only to have the Jazz match would be an unrestricted free agent who could qualify for a max deal worth 30 percent of the cap, about $33 million a year.
That same year, Gobert will be playing on the first year of his new contract. A steal for the Jazz late in the first round in 2013, Gobert is set to make $2.1 million next season. After that, he could qualify for a maximum contract with 25 percent of the cap, or about $27 million. The Jazz can negotiate an extension with Gobert this year up until the Oct. 31 deadline; after that he would become a restricted free agent.
The following summer, Favors will be coming off what has turned out to be a bargain deal and will be an unrestricted free agent.
Hayward, Favors and Gobert are currently the Big Three in small-market Utah. But with salaries set to balloon, Lindsey and the Jazz front office will have to decide what they're willing to spend to keep them around. If all three players earned max deals hardly an implausible scenario if their development continues on an upward trajectory they would eat up more than $93 million in cap space. That's before any decision regarding Exum and Hood, both of whom come off their rookie contracts in the summer of 2018.
"I'm constantly thinking about that," Hayward told ESPN.com earlier this year. "Contracts are so short now. A lot of our guys are on their rookie deals, and they'll come up for extensions. It all might determine whether or not I stay in Utah."
The Miller family has stated its willingness to pay up to the cap but has generally shown the same abhorrence to diving into the luxury tax as the family's late patriarch Larry H. Miller. If that remains the case, hard choices must be made think Oklahoma City in 2012, when the Thunder brass had to decide from among Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka.
Other rebuilding teams in recent years have also amassed young talent.
The Magic have locked up Nic Vucevic but have decisions to make on Victor Oladipo, who has one year left on his rookie deal, Evan Fournier, a restricted free agent this summer, and 2013 draft pick Aaron Gordon. The Minnesota Timberwolves, with youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and another high draft pick coming, will face a similar payroll pinch eventually. But few if any teams in the NBA will face the problem on the same scale as the Jazz soon.
The coming crunch impacts what the Jazz can and will do on the market this summer. The team has about $30 million to spend, but that only puts them in the middle of the pack in a summer when so many teams, including high-profile destinations like New York and L.A., will be flush with cap space. The Jazz will do their best to pitch one of the few top-tier free agents on joining an up-and-coming squad in Salt Lake City. But barring that, the Jazz front office knows that money will have to be spent wisely now, or they risk jeopardizing their ability to retain their own talent in the coming few years.
If the Jazz want short-term help, they could offer up a similar deal this summer to the one that lured Trevor Booker to Utah. The Jazz paid over market value for Booker in the summer of 2014, signing him to a two-year deal that was only half-guaranteed. That kind of deal would allow the Jazz to spend and maintain flexibility.
Lindsey doesn't have to make any drastic decisions this summer.
The Jazz missed the playoffs this season for a fourth straight year, but team decision makers believe their young roster is capable of much more. Analytics, specifically the team's point differential, suggests a team that was capable of winning 46 games this season if not for its crunch-time struggles. Injuries, particularly to Exum, Favors and Gobert, hampered their cause as well. The team's front office could very well continue to let things play out next season, evaluating and hoping to finally make the next step in their development.
But with so many decisions to be made regarding the team's ceiling and its relative value, Lindsey will also have to consider every possibility for maximizing and upgrading talent.
That means, the Jazz will have to at least consider the market for Hayward and Favors. Utah flipped all-star point guard Deron Williams in 2013, fearing that the point guard would walk in free agency the following summer, and managed to bring back a nice haul. And last season, Lindsey traded away Enes Kanter, knowing the Jazz would not be willing to match the max deal the disgruntled center earned the following summer. The Jazz won't have control over Hayward beyond next year and could listen to offers before the February trade deadline.
When he started the rebuild over three years ago, Lindsey preached the need for his team to focus on three D's. "Defense, discipline and development." Now the general manager faces another addition to his alliterative mantra: difficult decisions.
Jazz salary outlook: Committed salaries
Player 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
Gordon Hayward $16,073,140 $16,736,710*
Derrick Favors $10,983,333 $11,933,333
Alec Burks $9,904,495 $10,595,506 $11,286,515
Dante Exum $3,940,320 $4,992,385^
Trey Burke $3,386,598
Tibor Pleiss $3,000,000 $3,000,000
Shelvin Mack $2,433,334
Trey Lyles $2,340,600 $2,441,400^ $3,364,249^
Joe Ingles $2,250,000
Rudy Gobert $2,121,288
Rodney Hood $1,406,520 $2,386,864^
Chris Johnson $1,050,961
Jeff Withey $1,015,696
Raul Neto $1,000,000 $1,000,000
Team Total $60,906,285 $53,086,198 $14,650,764
*player option; ^Team Option. Source: basketball-reference.com
*Trevor Booker is an unrestricted free agent
Salary Cap Space
The NBA salary cap is projected to be around a record $92 million this summer. From basketballinsiders.com, the best-case space scenario for each team
Los Angeles Lakers: $68.3
Dallas Mavericks: $59.2
Philadelphia 76ers: $57.4
Orlando Magic: $52.1
Boston Celtics: $51.4
Houston Rockets: $44.2
Washington Wizards: $43.1
Brooklyn Nets: $42.2
Charlotte Hornets: $42.2
Portland Trail Blazers: $42.2
Memphis Grizzlies: $41.5
Miami Heat: $39.3
Atlanta Hawks: $37.4
Utah Jazz: $34.5
Phoenix Suns: $33.8
New York Knicks: $33.4
Indiana Pacers: $32.4
Denver Nuggets: $30.7
Minnesota Timberwolves: $27.1
Milwaukee Bucks: $26.7
Sacramento Kings: $26.1
Oklahoma City Thunder: $25.0
Detroit Pistons: $24.1
Chicago Bulls: $23.4
New Orleans Pelicans: $22.6
San Antonio Spurs: $20.3
Toronto Raptors: $18.8
Golden State Warriors: $17.3
Cleveland Cavaliers: $15.1
Los Angeles Clippers: $10.5