The ongoing saga involving Gordon Hayward’s status as a free agent finally concluded on Tuesday, as the twenty-seven-year-old forward announced his intention to leave the Utah Jazz for the Boston Celtics in an article published on the Players’ Tribune.
Citing Celtics coach Brad Stevens as a huge factor, Hayward said of his decision to join the Celtics:
There were so many great things pulling me in that direction. There was the winning culture of Boston, as a city — from the Sox, to the Pats, to the Bruins. There was the special history of the Celtics, as a franchise — from Russell, to Bird, to Pierce, and it goes on. There was the amazing potential of this current Celtics team — from ownership, to the front office, to a talented roster with Isaiah, and Al, and everyone else. And of course, there was Coach Stevens: Not just for the relationship that we’ve built off the court — but also for the one that we started building on the court, all of those years ago, in Indiana.
Ultimately though, he said that his decision was inspired by a desire “to win a championship”.
However you feel about that, it’s difficult to dispute the rationale. The Celtics are one of the most successful franchises in the game and have been building a platform for a player of Hayward’s caliber for some time now.
Still, opting to walk away from the Utah Jazz – the team that selected Hayward ninth overall in the 2010 NBA Draft, before nurturing his talents these past seven years – couldn’t have been an easy decision.
He says as much in the article, focusing on the personal evolution he’s undergone both with the team and in the city:
I’ve truly grown up in Salt Lake. I’ve become a man, and I’ve become a professional. I’ve gone from being a kid … to now having a wife and two kids. I’ve gone from having anxiety over leaving my family … to now having a family of my own. A lot has happened to me during my time here, and I honestly can’t think of any part of it that I haven’t cherished. This is a special place, and I know that the impression it’s made on me will long outlast the impression I’ve made on it.
And yet for Hayward this was ultimately a basketball decision, in much the same way Kevin Durant’s was this time last year, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s was in 2015.
Jazz fans will find that hard to accept though, and there are already videos of so-called “fans” burning Hayward jerseys all over social media. This is an understandable yet unacceptable reaction, as the modern NBA is all about winning and players have the right to do whatever they believe is necessary to put themselves in a position to win.
That’s something the Utah Jazz have been working hard on these past seven years, as they’ve transformed the entire culture of the organization, building around Hayward in order to become as competitive as possible.
And thanks largely to the efforts of GM Dennis Lindsey and head coach Quin Snyder the Jazz have built a decent young roster that succeeded in winning 51 games last year.
Still, a lot of that hard work has now been undone by Hayward’s decision. And while the organization still has mercurial big man Rudy Gobert on its books it’ll be intriguing to see just where they go from here.
Their first move was a classy one though, as they shared the following press release via social media:
— Utah Jazz PR (@UtahJazzPR) July 5, 2017
This is typical of an organization that cherishes loyalty, hard work and dedication above all else.
Unfortunately for them they were outgunned by a Boston Celtics organization that puts winning above all else – marking yet another big coup for one of the NBA’s largest markets, and another crushing blow for one its smaller ones.
That said, the one really good thing to come from this for the neutral is that Hayward moves from the crowded Western Conference to the East, which has lost a considerable amount of talent over the past couple of weeks.
Whether the Celtics now have what it takes to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers is a matter for debate. But at least the Eastern Conference should be a two horse race next year either way.
The Celtics are, in their current state, still flawed though: Isaiah Thomas only plays one end of the ball, Al Horford’s patchy postseason performances are cause for concern and the team’s struggles on the boards were costly at times last year.
However, by adding Hayward (on a reported four-year, $128 million contract) the Celtics finally have their true centerpiece – one they were able to acquire without sacrificing a whole lot of their future assets/flexibility.
And the good thing about Hayward is that he should continue to improve over the next four years.
This means that the Celtics can look to structure the team around him going forward. And while it may take a couple of seasons to get that right, Danny Ainge doesn’t exactly have to go into full-blown “win now” mode right away.
He will, however, have to shift some of the team’s current assets to make way for the new arrival.
As Bobby Marks of ESPN points out in this article, on top of Olynyk (Boston’s first sacrificial lamb) they will have to renounce free agents Jonas Jerebko, James Young, Gerald Green and waive or trade Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson. They will also need to move either Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart just to make this work.
Still, it’ll be worth it, as Boston’s been gathering assets these past few years for this very scenario, even if they weren’t able to snag Jimmy Butler or Paul George, as we’ve been led to believe they wanted to.
Utah, on the other hand, has been gathering assets (most recently Ricky Rubio and the returning Joe Ingles) for a future involving a loyal Gordon Hayward, one whose desire it was to follow in the footsteps of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Utah’s very own John Stockton – players who dedicated their careers to just the one franchise.
Sadly they backed the wrong horse, as did the Miami Heat, who felt they had a real shot at getting Hayward to sign there this offseason too.
And yet all three franchises know that this was ultimately a business decision – one that will enable Hayward to pick up where he left off with Brad Stevens in Boston, while the fans he left behind in Utah and those who hoped he’d be drawn to the bright lights of Miami are left to pick up the pieces in their respective home towns.