Utah Jazz: Did Isaiah Thomas Recruit Gordon Hayward at All-Star Weekend?

Feb 18, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) competes in the skills challenge during NBA All-Star Saturday Night at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) competes in the skills challenge during NBA All-Star Saturday Night at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston has long been a rumored landing spot for Utah Jazz star (and free agent to be) Gordon Hayward. Was the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas recruiting him at All-Star Weekend?

All-Star Weekend was a big one for the Utah Jazz; a moment where fans of the team could stand up and proudly declare, “We have arrived!”

At long last.

Following a years-long rebuild, the Jazz have played 57 games of (mostly) high-level basketball this season and currently sit in the Top 5 of the Western Conference. In doing so, they’ve officially rejoined the ranks of the NBA’s relevant.

It was especially evident over the weekend with a gaggle of Jazzmen participating in the league’s annual showcase of the best it has to offer.  More than anything, though, Gordon Hayward‘s participation in Sunday’s All-Star Game — a first for the Jazz since Deron Williams repped the squad in 2011 — has been a feather in the cap for fans and the Jazz organization.

Unfortunately, there’s a seedy underbelly to all of this, thrust to the forefront by Hayward’s participation in the All-Star Skills Challenge on Saturday.

In the first round of the competition, Hayward squared off with Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas. This is noteworthy because social media has been abuzz with speculation about Thomas attempting to recruit Hayward to Beantown. The tinfoil hat crowd is even spinning yarns that Thomas lost to Hayward on purpose as part of the recruitment.

And while this kind of thing can usually be chalked up to Twitter ramblings, this smoke may come with some fire.

Hayward, who will opt out of his current contract in favor of a big-money deal this summer, has long been rumored as being a Celtics target. Moreover, Thomas hasn’t been shy about the fact that he went into All-Star Weekend looking to recruit players for Boston.

“I’ve been recruiting for a while,” he told CSNNE.com. “I’m going to see what guys are talking about and dip my head in there and hopefully bring some more talent to Boston.”

He did the same thing during last year’s All-Star festivities and hit pay dirt. The Celtics’ efforts to acquire big man Al Horford began, indirectly, with conversations between he and Thomas that weekend. Horford would go on to ink a four-year deal with Boston last summer.

What’s more, a Hayward-Celtics pairing makes sense on a lot of levels. First and foremost, he can get paid in Boston. The Celtics have right around $70 million on the books next season, with the salary cap expected to fall in the area of $103 million. They’ll have to re-up with Thomas in 2018, but other than that, things are pretty wide open financially.

Next, we have the Brad Stevens connection. The Celtics headman was Hayward’s coach as a collegiate at Butler and the two remain good friends. Stevens also happens to be one of the league’s best coaches. The kind of guy you would probably want to play for even if you didn’t have a past with him.

Finally, the Celtics are one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. They’re currently second to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the standings and as long as their team is composed of Thomas, Horford and a talented supporting cast, they should remain near the top of the standings for years to come.

Adding Hayward would only serve to bolster their prospects. For a player who has said that winning is his top priority, it’s a situation the Jazzman may have to think long and hard about.

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While I tend to dismiss stories about Thomas throwing the Skills Challenge, it would shock me if Hayward wasn’t the target of his recruiting pitch. With all due respect to Jae Crowder, Hayward-to-Boston has the potential to take the Celtics to another level.

If I had to put money on whether or not that pitch will result in him leaving the Jazz, I’d still have to say that it’s more likely he stays in Utah. The Jazz are trending toward the elite, the future is bright and he’s established himself in Salt Lake City.

Still, should the idea that Thomas was recruiting Hayward over the weekend give fans pause?