1. Re-sign Gordon Hayward
This goes without saying, but the Jazz absolutely MUST keep Gordon Hayward for years to come. He is the foundational piece that has been with the Jazz for the seven-year journey that’s seen them move from one of the NBA’s bottom-feeders, to contenders. He is coming off a career best season which included his first All-Star appearance and proved just how valuable he is when the heat was turned up in the playoffs.
They say when you put a lump of coal under immense pressure, it can do one of two things; it can crumple into dust or turn into a diamond.
It says a lot about the mentality and character of a player when they can put a team on their back when they are needed most. We aren’t talking about your standard All-Star on a stacked team that can score a relaxed 30 points in a comfortable win with his teammates doing a lot of the work. We are talking about a player who carried what was essentially the second unit of a team through two playoff series and managed to be competitive.
With all the craziness in the playoffs so far, I’m not sure fans have realized that the Jazz were by far the most banged up team and were not only blending in, but succeeding. Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood, who started all season when healthy, were forced into bench roles because their knees didn’t hold up. George Hill missed the last three games against Golden State with an injury that’s kept him far from his best all year and Rudy Gobert battled back after missing a few games to play the rest of the playoffs injured.
Four of the five anticipated starters for the Utah Jazz were nowhere near their best for the entire playoffs. But Gordon Hayward missed just one game (or most of it) with food poisoning. In the first round series against the LA Clippers, Hayward was guarded by a very good defender in Luc Mbah a Moute. He still managed to have his way and ultimately pushed the Jazz over the line.
It got no easier against the Warriors. The duty of guarding Hayward was shared by Kevin Durant (a former NBA MVP who stands six-foot-ten with a seven-foot-five wingspan), Draymond Green (Defensive Player of the Year candidate) and Andre Iguodala (former First Team All-Defensive player and Finals MVP).
Despite all the long limbs and great defenders thrown at Hayward during his tremendous postseason, disregarding the food poisoning game where he played 9 minutes before passing out, he managed to average 26.2 points per game on 44.3 percent from the field. He also shot 41.5 percent from three point land and 93.4 percent from the free throw line. He pitched in in other areas as well, grabbing 6.5 boards per game and dishing out 3.7 assists. If you look at scoring efficiency, he was terrific in that area as well, scoring 1.42 points per shot attempt, trouncing the league average this season of 1.24.
What he means to this Jazz team can’t be understated, there’s simply no future without him. With the pending free agency of key players in George Hill and Joe Ingles, Hayward’s departure could be the downfall of the whole team. Let’s say Hayward does leave this offseason, what is going to make Hill and Ingles stay? I assure you that they don’t plan to spend the prime of their careers on a team with no offensive weapons and no title hopes. With the Jazz hoping to eventually bring another All-Star player to Salt Lake City, they will likely offer Hayward a contract that is perhaps smaller than he deserves to spare the cap space needed.
I’m not saying the Jazz front office won’t throw Hayward every penny he wants, I’m saying it would be more beneficial for the team and Hayward’s championship aspirations if he took a deal that would give the Jazz some cap space flexibility.
Gordon Hayward has turned himself into one of the most sought-after players in the NBA with his recent play and the door is open for him to choose any team willing to take him (there will be quite a few). Now he has to choose what is best for him in terms of money and winning, and after taking all into consideration, that team should be the Jazz.
The love he has received from Jazz fans with heartfelt pitches for him to stay such as putting up a ‘Stayward’ billboard in Salt Lake City, the Gatorade and tear-jerking note sent from Justin F. and the chants of ‘Gordon Hayward’ that rung throughout Vivint Smart Home Arena in his last game undoubtedly show how much he means to this franchise and its great fans.
I’d like to take this opportunity as a writer and fan to make my own pitch for Hayward to stay. There are only two other NBA teams that would be a significant upgrade over Utah in terms of winning; Golden State and Cleveland. Neither of which have the money to get near another star player. I don’t believe any other team has the upside and chances at a championship in the next three seasons as the Jazz.
Instead of being sucked into what other teams have to offer, look at what the Jazz can put on the table. They have one of the NBA’s premiere up-and-comers in Rudy Gobert who despite being the NBA’s best center, has yet to reach his full potential.
They have a myriad of young players who could one day be very valuable role players and possibly more in Dante Exum, Trey Lyles and Joel Bolomboy, the newly-added veterans that showed their worth in the playoffs, the cap space to land another superstar player, one of the best coaches in the NBA, one of the best general managers in the NBA and the best fans in the NBA. Let’s not forget (By Far!) the best mascot in the NBA (take that KD).
He has an incredible amount of power as his choice could either boost the Jazz to another level or send them into complete disarray. Let’s hope he makes the right decision.