There's a lot of skepticism surrounding the Utah Jazz this postseason, and with free agency opening up today, the obvious question for Jazz fans is: will Gordon Hayward stay with the Utah Jazz? Does he build upon his wildly successful 2016-2017 campaign with the team that molded him and put great pieces around him, or will he sign with another team to start a new chapter of his career?
Hayward finally had a team that was built around him, and he made the most of it. Throughout the year, he averaged 21.9 points per game, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and shot 47 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, 84 percent from the line, and his effective field goal percentage was an astounding 53.6 percent. His success this past season caught everyone’s attention and made every Jazz fan proud. Hell, people raised money to put up massive billboards with his image and the hashtag #Stayward, all over the Wasatch Front.
Gordon Hayward finds himself in a precarious position, and one that he’s never faced before: being a sought after commodity. He’ll not only have the Jazz throwing every bit of money at him that they can possibly afford to but so will the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics. This will prove to be the biggest decision of his (still) young NBA career. Gordon Hayward can stay in Utah and fight off the juggernaut Golden State Warriors, or he can climb the step ladder in the Eastern Conference and (possibly) face them in the Finals at the end of the 2017-18 campaign with the Boston Celtics or the Miami Heat. Let’s face it; the Eastern Conference just isn't as good as the Western Conference.
I understand that this topic has been completely blown out of proportion these past few weeks, but let’s take a minute to discuss why Gordon Hayward leaving the Utah Jazz is a bad decision, no matter how obvious it may be to Jazz Nation. For starters, Dennis Lindsey snagged great veteran leadership and savvy when he traded for and signed George Hill, Boris Diaw, and Joe Johnson; that much is clear, but had the Jazz not been plagued by injury all season, Utah could have won 55 to 57 games and given the Golden State Warriors a run for their money. Sure, the starting lineup of George Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert only played in a handful of games together, but they handily won the majority of those games. Second, Gordon Hayward was molded to compete in the Western Conference. Think about that. He not only got to play for Jerry Sloan for a year, but he’s had three years with Quin Snyder, arguably Jerry Sloan’s only replacement.
Brad Stevens or not, the Jazz have been built around Hayward, whereas the Celtics are built around Brad Stevens’ vision; a vision Hayward hasn’t been a part of since 2010. That’s not to say Brad Stevens’ coaching isn’t good, in fact, it’s great (hence the trip the Eastern Conference Finals), but for Hayward, he would no longer be the go-to, best player on the team.
He would have to learn how he fits in with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford. Not only that, Boston would have to let go of a ton of backups; I don’t know exactly who they would get rid of, but how will the Celtics go deep into the playoffs if they don’t have any reserves? A starting lineup can only play so hard for so long, pending a lack of injuries. The third thing is the Jazz have a lot of assets right now. They just landed Donovan Mitchell in the draft, a player who will undoubtedly strengthen their defense and physicality, but they can also make more moves to grab players that would help him and the Jazz as a whole.
One final thought to consider before Gordon Hayward makes his decision. The Jazz have two liabilities on their roster — Derrick Favors and Alec Burks. Alec Burks hasn’t had a healthy or productive season for quite some time and trading him would free up $11.2 million. Derrick Favors and his nagging back issue would free up $11.7 million before his contract ends at the end of next year.
That’s a little more than $23 million worth of hey-look-what-we-have-over-here money that could entice a handful of great talent that would be more than willing to help bolster a burgeoning roster that has yet to hit its full potential. Dennis Lindsey helped craft many successful seasons for the San Antonio Spurs from 2007 to 2012, so it’s safe to say that he knows what it’s going to take to keep him in Utah for the foreseeable future. There are plenty of great players that would love to play here, and I think that Gordon Hayward, Dennis Lindsey and his front office, Quin Snyder, Gail Miller, even the Jazz Bear, have a pretty good sales pitch to keep the momentum they built in the 2016-2017 campaign, rolling on for the next five years.