Well, that was one hell of an Independence Day. The day that was supposed to be celebrated for the independence and freedom America gained from Great Britain, was instead, at least in Utah, a day where a player used his independence and freedom of NBA free agency to pack up and join the Boston Celtics, leaving the Jazz in shambles and instead casting a glaring question mark about the future of the franchise.
We knew there was a possibility that he could leave when rumors started swirling before the season even started, largely due to the fact that the Celtics are coached by Brad Stevens, Hayward’s coach at Butler.
But the way it happened was terrible, and it felt like a total betrayal, the player Utah had grown to love and put the future hopes of the franchise on his shoulders was gone. Or was he?
The news broke around noon by way of ESPN’s Chris Haynes, stating that Hayward had decided to sign with Boston. Jazz fan were broken, but at least some could understand the move. Then, just minutes later, conflicting reports arose about Hayward’s decision and all hell broke loose. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who by most is considered the most trusted inside source for NBA news, reported that according to Mark Bartelstein, Hayward’s agent, that “Gordon hasn’t made a decision yet. We are still working through it.”
Free-agent Gordon Hayward plans to sign with the Boston Celtics, league sources tell ESPN.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 4, 2017
Source confirms Gordon Hayward has NOT made a decision. The report saying he is headed to #celtics — at least as of right now — is UNTRUE.
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) July 4, 2017
Gordon Hayward's agent, Mark Bartelstein, tells ESPN: "Gordon hasn't made a decision yet. We are still working through it."
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 4, 2017
This gave Jazz fans a faint glimmer of hope, thinking maybe that Gordon had changed his mind or that the original reports were false, and that maybe he would return to the team that drafted him and made him into an All-Star. That glimmer of hope was what Jazz fans held onto for hours, those hopes of contending for a championship and being a yearly playoff threat. Those hours felt like days. Jazz fans held their collective breath, and waited… and waited.
We trust Gordon and his agent that no decision has been made. Good communication all day and a great relationship.
— Steve Starks (@StevenStarks) July 4, 2017
And then around 6 p.m., the announcement came via an article penned by Gordon in the Players’ Tribune, and he was gone, just like what was reported hours earlier. Jazz fans had been on such a rollercoaster ride of emotions. They had their hearts ripped out, put back, then ripped out again and stomped on. The boy who had grown into a man in Utah was gone.
It hurt bad. All the sudden reality set in. This is what happens when you’re a small market team. Fair or not, your franchise’s future can be dependent on one player to remain competitive.
Thank You, Utah. https://t.co/ICfocNeZfW
— Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) July 4, 2017
It felt like, granted to a lesser extent, Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City to a place where he knew he could win. The Jazz did things the right way. They let free agents, like Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson walk to develop young big men. They hired a new coach, Quin Snyder, who was highly praised for his player development skills. They brought in Dennis Lindsey to run the team. They matched the offer sheet Charlotte signed Hayward too, which a contingency of Jazz fans disagreed with. They handed over the keys of the team to a young, skinny kid from Indiana.
They won 25, 38 and then 40 games before last year’s 51-win season building around Hayward. The All-Star put in the work and so did the Jazz and we were rewarded with postseason basketball for the first time in five years this past season. Gordon finally got recognized for his increased play and was named an All-Star. The Jazz even traded for Ricky Rubio days before, and reportedly with Hayward’s blessing of wanting to play with a pass first point guard. They also re-signed his best friend on the team Joe Ingles. The future looked bright, and then with one decision, it all came tumbling down.
The Jazz and the Miller family did everything in their power to convince Gordon to stay. They built around him for seven years and fans did everything they could to keep him too. And the entire PR stunt put Jazz fans over the edge. It might not have been so bad if he had just confirmed the rumors that had come earlier. But after everything that happened, the Player’s Tribune piece felt so hollow and fake it just added insult to injury, and the betrayal was complete.
Now our franchise centerpiece is gone. Walking away to supposedly greener pastures. He took what some consider the easy way out, joining a Celtics team that already finished first in the East, and whose only competition is LeBron James and the Cavaliers. All while the West got even tougher with Paul George and Jimmy Butler changing conferences, the Jazz’s competition got a lot tougher. So, Gordon chose the easier path. He left behind a fan base who grew to love him, a franchise that built around him, and a coach who he played under twice as much as Stevens. He left behind a possible jersey hanging in the rafters at Vivint SmartHome Arena. But he obviously didn’t care too much about any of that, or finishing what he started in Utah.
He wants to finish what he started all those years ago at Butler with Brad Stevens. It would have been nice to know that so the Jazz could have gotten something for him or built the team around someone else. He might get a ring — although doubtful if the Warriors stay together — and he’ll be scrutinized more now than ever. He’ll become the next Deron Williams, not realizing how good he had it and wishing he had stayed. But only time will tell how Gordon’s decision will play out.
The Jazz might be ok next year and in the future. They might not be. Only time will tell. We will never know what could’ve been with Gordon, Ricky, Rudy, Jinglin’ Joe and Donovan Mitchell. It would’ve been quite an exciting at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
But one thing is for sure, the fans in Salt Lake will be ready for his return next season. So, Gordon prepare yourself, because you will hear it from the loudest fans in the league. They won’t be kind about it. You betrayed their trust and wasted seven years, throwing the Jazz to the curb for “greener pastures.” Good luck in Boston, Gordon. And don’t come crawling back.