Given that the Boston Celtics are presumably the top candidate for taking free agent Gordon Hayward away from the Utah Jazz this offseason, their success is likely to cause understandable angst among the Utah faithful.
The impending free agency of Utah Jazz All-Star Gordon Hayward was a key undertone throughout the entirety of the 2016-17 NBA season. As phenomenal as he was all year long, the concern that his breakout season would eventually result in him playing elsewhere next year was certainly a valid one.
And with the constant speculation on Hayward’s upcoming decision, the hypothesis that has seemed to be brought up the most is that of Gordon joining up with his former college coach Brad Stevens to play for the Boston Celtics.
Only time will tell whether that was nothing more than a nice-sounding, but invented narrative or if there was more substance behind it. However, the reports and rumors relating to a Hayward-to-Boston move have surfaced enough that it’s certainly led to Jazz fans keeping a close eye on the Boston Celtics all season long.
Hayward has made it clear that he wants to be on a team that will put him in the best position to win and while Jazz brass has done everything in their power to prove to Hayward that they’re working on building that kind of environment for him in Utah, the Celtics certainly have an interesting case as well.
They’re currently the top seed in the Eastern Conference and after defeating the Washington Wizards in Game 7 last night are headed to the Eastern Conference Finals to take on the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. They finished with a slightly better record than the Jazz of 53-29, albeit in a weaker Eastern Conference, and unfortunately were able to defeat Utah twice in the regular season, which likely wasn’t helpful in defending the Jazz’s case.
However, aside from the fact that the Celtics had a slightly better regular season and nabbed the top seed in the East, in a lot of ways they are very similar to the Jazz. They have a pair of stars in Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford and are surrounded by solid role players and exceptional depth. They have plenty of young up-and-coming talent and with some superb draft picks tucked away, courtesy of the Brooklyn Nets, have an even brighter future.
They’re also a sturdy defensive team and do a great job of playing as a unit and relying on a “next man up” kind of mentality.
Also, much like the Jazz found to be the case against the Golden State Warriors, unless the Celtics shock the world in the Eastern Conference Finals, they’ll likely find themselves to still be a step below their conference’s powerhouse team, in their case the Cleveland Cavaliers.
So far the postseason has been a tough challenge for the Celtics as they fell behind 0-2 to the Chicago Bulls in the first round before rattling off four straight wins, then went to Game 7 against the Washington Wizards in round two.
If Utah hadn’t had the misfortune of having to play Golden State in the second round, perhaps they could be advancing as well, but instead the Celtics will be able to tout to Hayward that, despite some struggles, they did indeed go further in the postseason than his current team.
And that fact may very well be somewhat nerve-wracking for Jazz fans. Sure, their team had a phenomenal season, but seeing what Boston is currently doing could certainly be a reason for angst.
It would seem more than a little farfetched to presume that the Celtics have much hope to win a championship this season, but add an All-Star like Gordon Hayward to their ranks along with whoever else they may be able to muster via trade or free agency this offseason and perhaps that team starts to look really scary next year. That’s a frightening thought for the entire league, but even more so for the Jazz as it could be enough to woo Hayward away from them.
Which means that the results of Boston’s upcoming series against the Cavs could end up being extremely vital to Jazz fans and the organization alike, as well as to Gordon Hayward himself. If the Celtics are manhandled by the Cavaliers, similar to how Utah was picked apart by the Warriors, then there’s a very good chance that Hayward realizes that Boston has just about as far to go to get past their Goliath as Utah does.
However, if Boston ends up being able to push Cleveland, taking the series to six or seven games, Hayward may start to wonder what a team led by his former coach would be capable of if they had one more prolific guy such as himself in the lineup. And if the C’s do the unthinkable and manage to upset the Cavs, Gordon may find himself speculating even further about what his addition could do.
Therefore, Jazz fans will likely be monitoring Boston’s performance against the Cavaliers with intense scrutiny. As nice as it would be to see someone in the East finally challenge LeBron James, it may be somewhat worrisome to the Utah faithful if the team that apparently has the greatest chance of stealing their All-Star away was the one to do it.
Make no mistake about it, regardless of what happens with the Celtics in the ensuing series, they’ve done plenty to make a strong case for Hayward to join their ranks and Jazz fans have every right to be nervous about it. Plus, depending on how well they play against Cleveland, that anxiety is bound to grow even further.
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Nevertheless, the Jazz have taken massive bounds forward this season and have provided plenty of reasons for Hayward to stay put as well and fans should take heart in that.
At the end of the day Hayward is going to make the decision that is best for him, but between the potential of an enormous payday, an excellent group of teammates with whom he fits exceptionally well, a solid coach in Quin Snyder and an incredible amount of love and support from his fans, Gordon will likely have a hard time leaving.
And no matter how much success Boston has had or continues to have this postseason, those factors are still going to be there for the Jazz.
Time will tell if that’s enough to convince him to stay, but regardless of any speculation, particularly regarding the Celtics, Jazz fans have to be happy with the situation that Jazz brass and this Utah team have provided for Gordon Hayward. And rather than worry about what the Celtics do, they should instead have faith in the master plan of the crafty Utah Jazz front office to put this team in the spot where it needs to be to compete.