For the second year in a row, the Fourth of July could be a big day in building the Charlotte Hornets’ roster.
A year ago center Al Jefferson agreed to terms with the then-Bobcats and went on to make third-team All-NBA. On Friday, Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward agreed to come to Charlotte for a visit early next week.
A 6-foot-8 forward-guard from Butler, Hayward is a restricted free agent. That means the Jazz could match any other team’s offer to Hayward and retain him.
The Cleveland Cavaliers brought Hayward in for a visit this week but were reportedly reluctant about providing him an offer sheet, on the reasoning the Jazz might match any offer.
The Hornets need a wing shooter-scorer, and Hayward, 24, fits that description. He averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds last season. His field-goal percentage slipped from 43.4 percent in the 2012-13 season to 41.3 percent last season, but that in part reflects the struggles the 25-57 Jazz had after Jefferson signed in Charlotte and power forward Paul Millsap signed with the Atlanta Hawks.
Jefferson and Hayward are friends from their time together in Salt Lake City. Jefferson said at his news conference, announcing his All-NBA selection, that he planned to recruit other players to Charlotte.
Point guard Kemba Walker recruited Jefferson last spring, warming him up for the presentation the Bobcats made in free-agency last July. Jefferson averaged 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, leading the franchise to just their second playoff appearance since the Bobcats’ inception in 2004.
A player of Hayward’s perimeter skills could enhance Jefferson’s low-post game, discouraging opposing teams from double-teaming aggressively. The 43-39 Hornets were among the NBA’s weaker shooting teams last season, finishing bottom-third in a 30-team league in field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and 3-point percentage.
While Hornets starting small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a fine defender, he doesn’t provide spacing with his shooting range. He took just nine 3-pointers last season, making one.
If Hayward decides he wants to be a Hornet, NBA rules could complicate the process. The Hornets couldn’t sign him to an offer sheet before July 10 when the NBA’s annual moratorium ends and the new salary-cap year commences. The Jazz would then have up to three days with the option to match Charlotte’s offer and retain Hayward.
The Hornets can assemble at least $15 million in cap space once they complete a pre-arranged deal with the Cavaliers. The Hornets will send the draft rights to Stanford forward Dwight Powell (selected 45th overall) to Cleveland. In return the Cavs will absorb the $2 million the Hornets owe center Brendan Haywood. The Hornets will get forward Alonzo Gee, whose contract is not guaranteed for next season.
The Jazz has sent out signals it intends to match any offer for Hayward. However, Utah drafted Duke small forward Rodney Hood, who is of similar size and skill set to Hayward, so Utah could be preparing for eventualities.
The most any team other than the Jazz can offer Hayward is $63 million over four seasons. The Jazz could offer Hayward as much as $85 million over five seasons.
There is an option aside from an offer sheet. The Hornets could approach the Jazz about a sign-and-trade to acquire Hayward. The Hornets have all their future first-round picks, plus cap space and young players, so it’s conceivable they could assemble a package the Jazz would consider.
Twice previously the Bobcats signed players to offer sheets and both were matched: Anderson Varejao returned to Cleveland and Carl Landry returned to the Houston Rockets.
The Hornets continue negotiations to re-sign power forward Josh McRoberts and are looking for a backup point guard. The Hornets contacted the agents for ex-Bobcat Ramon Sessions on Friday.
Sessions, an unrestricted free agent, said in March he’d enjoy returning to Charlotte. The Bobcats traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks in February in the deal that acquired Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour.
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; @rick_bonnell
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