Goodbye and Good Luck, Gordon Hayward
By Ken K. Gourdin
As an ardent fan of the National Basketball Association’s Utah Jazz, like other Jazz fans, I have struggled to put the events of the last 28 hours or so into proper perspective. (Perhaps the easiest way to do that is to simply say, “Life is life, while basketball is simply a game.” Touche.) But, as much as basketball might not matter in the grand scheme of things, I’ve been a fan of the Jazz since well before the Jazz deserved any fans, and it is difficult for me to extricate myself from that kind of an emotional investment or to say that I am apathetic about what happens to the team.
Do I wish Gordon Hayward any ill will? No. Do I harbor any resentment toward him? Probably not, but the latter question is much more difficult to answer. As another fan has pointed out, Jazz fans stuck by Gordon Hayward even when some felt he wasn’t the best choice remaining on the board when the Jazz drafted him. Although he had a breakout year this year, averaging more than 21 points per game, it took him awhile to get there: Jazz fans stuck by him through all of that development, and to say we shouldn’t care, now that, arguably, he is turning his back on the state, on the team, and on its fans (even if his motivation for doing so is not personal) is not realistic. (That said, I’ll still root for Hayward … 80 games a year.)
The one standpoint from which Hayward’s decision does make sense is because of his loyalty to his former college coach at Indiana’s Butler University, Brad Stevens, who now is the coach of the team Hayward is leaving the Jazz to join, the Boston Celtics. Hayward is leaving a not-inconsiderable sum of money on the table in order to do it. Perhaps Hayward saw a move to Boston as a way to rectify having previously “abandoned” (though perhaps that’s too strong a word) his school and his former college coach when he declared himself eligible for the NBA draft as an underclassman. Arguably, though, one doesn’t rectify abandoning one team (the Butler University Bulldogs) by abandoning yet another (the Utah Jazz).
The one thing that puzzles me is why Hayward, his agent Mark Bartlestein, and the Celtics didn’t work out some kind of a sign-and-trade agreement in order to assure that the Jazz weren’t left so empty handed: Doing so also would have benefitted Hayward, since under the NBA’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement rules, no team can pay Hayward more than the Jazz could have. Perhaps the logistics were simply too complex to work out in the abbreviated time frame Hayward’s indecision left the Jazz and the Celtics to work out such a deal; or perhaps such a deal was unrealistic because of what the Celtics would have had to give up in order to acquire Hayward.
Gordon Hayward has a reputation as a fierce competitor, and, largely, that reputation has been well earned. However, not many will argue (at least, they will not attempt to do so with a straight face) the fact that, for some time, the NBA’s most competitive basketball has been played in the Western Conference. If I were he, the opportunity to continue to prove my mettle against the league’s best teams would have played no small part in my decision whether to stay with the Western Conference’s Jazz or whether to join the Eastern Conference’s Celtics. And even with Hayward, do the Celtics have a strong enough core to be competitive against the East’s best teams, or did Hayward (without realizing it) simply just set himself up to be a sacrificial lamb for LeBron James and the two-time NBA title contender Cleveland Cavaliers?
As for the Jazz, the consensus is that their formerly-solid core now has been decimated, and that a previously up-and-coming team suddenly has been turned into an also-ran which will struggle to win half of its games. As much as the Jazz will miss Hayward, I’m not convinced: The Jazz still won 51 games last season when their primary lineup was only together for about 20 of those games due to injuries. In the process of achieving that record, adversity notwithstanding, Quin Snyder proved his bona fides as an NBA coach. While doing so again (without Hayward) will, admittedly, be much more challenging, I’m not prepared to say that Coach Snyder is not up to the task.
Even without Hayward, reports of the Jazz’s demise are entirely premature.