SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gordon Hayward is officially a free agent.
The Utah Jazz forward has declined the player-option final year on his contract as expected and will now test the market as an unrestricted free agent, said a person with knowledge of the situation.
Hayward, a seven-year veteran, is one of the marquee names available this offseason and will likely command a max deal. The person spoke to The Associated Press Thursday on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been formally announced.
The Jazz have made it clear that resigning Hayward is the No. 1 priority for the offseason, and his departure would be an enormous blow to the recent progression of the franchise. The Celtics are widely considered his top pursuer with Hayward’s college coach Brad Stevens at the helm. The ability to win will be one of the key factors for Hayward and the Celtics are coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference finals as the No. 1 playoff seed in the East.
The Miami Heat are also in the mix.
“Every fiber of our collective being and soul of the Utah Jazz want him back,” general manager Dennis Lindsey said.
Hayward just concluded the most productive season of his career that included his first All-Star selection, career-highs in points and rebounds per game and leading the franchise to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. He averaged 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists and pushed the Jazz to the second round after not winning a playoff game since 2010.
Hayward was one of four players to average at least 21.5 points, five rebounds, 3.5 assists, one steal and two 3-pointers per game this season. The foursome also included the three MVP finalists in Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard.
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