“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” - Ernest Hemingway
Trust can be a scary thing. Putting your trust in someone, especially when it is your first time, is akin to tearing away a piece of who you are, a piece you usually covet alone and in isolation, and giving it to an alien entity. You may know that entity very well but you will never know it as utterly as you know yourself, and therefore it is impossible to go into this transaction of souls devoid of trepidation.
The Utah Jazz find themselves on the precipice of this metaphorical cliff and despite obvious nerves are taking the plunge. The reported $49 million over four year extension for Derrick Favors and the rumored even pricier contract for Gordon Hayward are the Jazz putting their trust wholly into their young core, perhaps a year or so before they have to.
Favors has always been tantalizing, true rim-protection is a coveted commodity in the league these days and a young, defensive-first player like Favors is almost a must in team building now. His ability to corral speedy point guards beyond the foul line as well as his instinctual timing on blocks and position around the rim makes him an extremely valuable and versatile defender, one the Jazz are optimistically projecting as Joakim Noah-esque.
Offense has been a struggle, he will likely never have the touch around the basket or post dominance of an Al Jefferson and he has yet to hone a singular offensive skill he can execute well enough to remain a threat on that end, à la Tyson Chandler and his pick and roll dominance. But, as with Chandler, that is a skill that Utah is banking on to come in time and something he’ll have plenty of opportunity to work on with a roster now devoid of miunte-logging veterans.
Gordon Hayward derives his value in a much different way than Favors, embodying a more jack of all trades role than Favor’s overwhelming “singular” skill. Amongst forwards he stuffs the box score with the best of them and his offensive game is already more polished than his more lauded peers. This year Hayward is going to have much more opportunity to take those per-36 numbers and turn them into true production. He holds his own risks as well, he may have already hit his ceiling with his improved play last year and his efficiency may not translate well after another spike in usage rate.
These are the potential questions with both players that could be answered within the next year, and yet the Jazz are moving on ahead, buying in early regardless. There is something to be said for paying a player for what you want him to be, incentivizing through motivation to live up to his best potential self rather than through dangling a reward in his face. Jrue Holiday more than lived up to the money the Sixers gave him two years ago, so much so that the overpay turned into a steal. There is also something to be said for preventing a young, high upside player from entering restricted free agency where there is potential for a max contract to be offered from a desperate and irrational team. It only takes one a**hole, as the saying goes.
The pre-pay doesn’t always work, the Raptors over-evaluation of DeMar DeRozan ended up sticking them with an unnecessarily expensive bill for a player who looks unlikely to ever live up to his contract. It is unequivocally a risky strategy, one that takes an enormous amount of trust within one’s evaluation of the player in question, the kind of trust most teams balk at in favor of squeezing out as much playing time out of their player before making a decision.
But trust is easy when there is no other choice, then it becomes a product of mere circumstance. The very foundation of trust, its inherent risk, becomes null and void. Waiting until the very last moment to extend a rookie may reward you with the most informed decision, and in many cases may be the most prudent route, but there is a trade-off.
Trusting when the situation is ideal, trusting before you have to, is where a bond is truly formed. You can’t tell me that it doesn’t matter to Favors or Hayward that the organization that drafted them, that developed them, are ready to commit to them a year before they have to. How much that matters is debatable and, probably, unknowable. But after Favors spent his first couple years in the league playing third fiddle to Milsap and Jefferson and Hayward relegated to the bench despite production that suggested a starting spot, this could be an almost necessary move.
Favors and Hayward will enter this season with the knowledge that they are playing for an organization that has fully committed to them. The pressure to play through injury or to push themselves past their limits to warrant a pay day no longer exists for either player. The thing about trust is that it goes both ways. The great risk is acknowledged by both sides and through that knowledge, the bond becomes all the stronger.
Its hard to see that not mattering.