For Jazz fans, this year's Fourth of July meant more than just another celebration of America’s Independence, it was the looming uncertainty of whether Gordon Hayward would stay in Utah and see this project through or pack his bags and move to Boston. Earlier that afternoon, Chris Haynes of ESPN broke the news that Gordon Hayward would be joining the Celtics. Turns out that was a little premature on his part since no “official” word had come from Hayward himself. A few hours later, Hayward officially announced his decision on The Players’ Tribune website, thanking everyone inside the Jazz organization, Salt Lake City, and every Jazz fan who supported him and helped him become a man in the NBA.
It’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re a Jazz fan. Dennis Lindsey made great moves prior to Hayward’s decisive weekend, to not just sweeten the deal, but make a solid team even better and ready for the gauntlet of teams in the west. He traded up with Denver to snag Donovan Mitchell in the draft, picked up the remaining $29 million dollar contract of Ricky Rubio from Minnesota to better conduct their offense and strengthen their perimeter defense and gave Joe Ingles a $52 million salary for four more years with more than enough money to offer Hayward a max deal. Unfortunately, this was not enough to keep him in Utah for the long haul.
He opted to play for a team that barely had a better record than the Jazz at 53-29 and lost in the eastern conference finals 4 -1. Sure, the Jazz were swept by the Warriors in the second round of the playoffs, but so did every team they played — until the Cavs exploded offensively to take away their perfect postseason. Not to mention that Boston had already parted ways with Kelly Olynyk, and have to free up cap space by releasing three of their key players — Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart. Look, any franchise that is willing to get rid of key players speaks volumes to a player like Gordon Hayward, but Boston has to get rid of them before they can bring him on and all four of those aforementioned players are starting line-up material, but where do they go when just about every team has already made their moves, or don’t have the money necessary to sign them? On top of that, without those guys to back up Gordon Hayward Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, how good will their record be, and if they make it to the playoffs, how deep will they really go?
There is no doubt that Hayward’s decision was difficult for him, and he probably lost plenty of sleep over it, but it’s hard to see how going to Boston is going to give him a better chance at a title. The eastern conference is nowhere near as tough as the West (even more so now, thanks to an abundance of teams landing tremendous talent) so the climb to the top of the East should naturally come easy right? Not without the backup that's required to make it through the regular season and into the playoffs. If Boston were able to sign Hayward and keep that team intact, only then would his championship hopes be more attainable. Utah, on the other hand, are more than established and were only going to get better. Who's to say that had Hayward stayed in Utah, Rudy Gobert would follow up his season that defied all expectations with a Defensive Player of the Year award, Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors would erase their lackluster and injury riddled seasons from the history books. Joe Ingles would maintain his status as a bonafide threat, both offensively and defensively, whilst pissing more players off in the process. Dante Exum’s flashes of brilliance in the postseason would carry over into the next year and Joe Johnson’s ice cold veins would help them when they needed a basket the most. Couple that with the addition of Ricky Rubio, a point guard that loves to pass the ball and frustrate people on defense. Gordon Hayward had every tool he needed to make a push for a championship.
Boston has essentially hit the reset button, again. And as much as Hayward wants to win a championship, all of that pressure that he let get to him from time to time will be far greater and more frequent in Boston. Gordon Hayward is a great player, but he may never be the go-to player he has been expected to be, and Boston will do nothing but expect the same. There is no doubt that Isaiah Thomas will be spectacular, and Al Horford will help alleviate some of that pressure, but when your team is deflated of reserves and cap space, how do they expect to make a run for a championship in the next two or three years?
Whether or not Hayward will have an easier road to the finals (if they even make it to the finals) is yet to be seen, but if they do, he will be met with a harsh reality called the Golden State Warriors. Sure, the Jazz would face that same reality, but they would pose a greater threat than a team that has to be rebuilt to get there. The Jazz may be in the same situation now that Hayward is gone, but they only need to fill one spot, whereas the Celtics have to fill many. Who knows, maybe the Celtics will be better than expected and make a lot of Bostonians, but Gordon Hayward would have had a better chance of winning a championship with the team that molded him, was built for him, and rallied behind him.