ICYMI: Jeff Van Gundy has high praise for Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz

Nov 29, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) and Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) celebrate after Gobert blocks Houston Rockets shot during the fourth quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah Jazz win 120-101. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) and Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) celebrate after Gobert blocks Houston Rockets shot during the fourth quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah Jazz win 120-101. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports /

Jeff Van Gundy joined 1280 The Zone in a recent radio interview and had high praise for Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz as well as some reassuring insight on Hayward’s future.

Just two days ago former NBA coach and current ESPN color commentator Jeff Van Gundy joined Spencer Checketts of 1280 The Zone to talk about the NBA playoffs and the current/future status of the Utah Jazz. Whether or not you’re a fan of Van Gundy, the interview made for a phenomenal listen and the fact that a renowned NBA figure such as himself spoke so highly of the Jazz was undoubtedly a reassuring sign.

You can listen to the entire show via the link in the tweet below and I very much recommend that every Utah Jazz fan does so:

After listening myself, I wanted to briefly recap some of the things that stood out to me the most about the interview.

Perhaps most encouraging about the entire show was Van Gundy’s prediction that Gordon Hayward will indeed stay in Utah. You can see a handful of Van Gundy’s statements about his thoughts on the Jazz All-Star in the tweets below from 1280 The Zone’s Spencer Checketts:

He also touched on how difficult of a choice it will be for Hayward as he has so many options and is such a good player. Then he reiterated how tempting it could be for him to play for Boston due to familiarity with the coach, being able to play in the Eastern Conference and having a (hypothetically) easier route to the Finals as well as Boston’s ability to add even more talent and potentially get even better next season.

But despite all that, JVG stuck by his prediction, that Gordon Hayward will indeed stay in Utah.

I particularly liked as well where he talked about Hayward “seeing the project through” as you can see in the third tweet up above. Essentially Van Gundy’s point was that there’s a lot of value in what Hayward has built as a cornerstone (along with Rudy Gobert) of a team that went from a dismal lottery team to an elite playoff force and he feels that Gordon will want to see that through and show just how far he can help push this Jazz team.

Following those encouraging predictions on Hayward, Van Gundy went on to give his thoughts about Rudy Gobert and head coach Quin Snyder and their impact on Hayward’s decision. Initially he said that an NBA player ought to “value teammates that care deeply about winning and [are] enjoyable to be around and play with” then added, “You better enjoy the guys you play with and the person you play for.

JVG continued:

"“I believe he has an ideal situation in Quin Snyder.I don’t think Quin Snyder is a good coach, I think he’s a great coach. I think he’s an extraordinary coach.Everything he does systematically makes sense, their players get better and I think he’s got the perfect balance between being a really good guy and an absolute driver of players to try to get them to maximize their potential.”"

Then that’s where his praise of Gobert came in:

"“If you’re a player, what you’re looking for in other players is guys who are driven to win, succeed and do it the right way, and when I look at Gobert, I love his competitive spirit.If Gobert did not have the competitive drive and spirit to care deeply about the results of winning or losing, to improve his game, you would see someone that floundered. But because the Jazz identified not only his size and athletic potential but his drive and willingness to work to get better, that’s why you see now a guy who you could easily make the argument is the best center in basketball.And if you’re Hayward and you value winning and you value teammates that are committed, Gobert can only be a help if you’re Utah and trying to state your case to keeping Hayward."

Not only did Van Gundy blatantly recognize just what a formidable (and in my opinion, still vastly underrated) coach Snyder is, but he was quick to point out Rudy’s competitive spirit, something that Jazz fans were very familiar with and admired all year long. I agree one hundred percent with Van Gundy’s sentiment here. If Gordon wants to win, he has to surround himself with winners.

That’s not to say there aren’t players with drive and desire on the Celtics roster, because there most certainly are. But in terms of someone with the level of motivation and passion that Gobert has, that’s honestly a trait that’s tough to find.

Getting back to Hayward, Van Gundy was asked about what the main motivating factors would likely be for Gordon (or any NBA player for that matter) when deciding where to go and what to do in free agency. He stated that money as well as where a player sees himself living and raising a family, along with what the wife thinks, are the top priorities.

Beyond that, it’s all about basketball opportunity, according to Van Gundy. That opportunity could mean finding a bigger role, a better opportunity to win, a better path for a championship or simply the opportunity to play with like-minded teammates.

These are all certainly issues that Hayward will have to consider, but as JVG alluded to, he won’t have a bigger role with a team like Boston and will be hard-pressed to find a team outside of the Jazz that puts him in a better winning scenario. Therefore, assuming that Hayward is happy with the money the Jazz can offer (which there’s no reason he wouldn’t be) and enjoys living and raising a family in Utah, from a basketball standpoint, he’s in a pretty good spot.

From there, Spencer Checketts went on to ask Van Gundy if he thought that, even at 27-years-old and with seven years in the league, Gordon Hayward could get even better, to which JVG replied succinctly, “Absolutely!” He then went on to add the following insight that I felt was spot on:

"“I don’t know where this notion came – whether it started in the draft – when we started labeling guys who were 22-years-old that they were old and and that they didn’t have the cliche “upside.” You have upside when you have talent and a work ethic, and a coach that can drive you to places that you can’t drive yourself. And so, yeah certainly, he’s still a young player at 27.In fact I’d be disappointed and shocked if Hayward doesn’t make a good jump between now and when he’s 30.”"

Van Gundy also added that Coach Snyder can improve as well and that he should very much be able to. His high praise for the Jazz coach continued as he said he is prepared, intelligent, unafraid to do things his way and has a great demeanor that allows him to balance between being intense and showing his players just how much he cares about them. He also referred to Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey as “brilliant”, which I’m sure no Jazz fan would disagree with.

And that all brought Van Gundy to one of my favorite quotes of the show in which he praised the Jazz and reminded fans just how lucky we’ve been to support such an impressive franchise:

"“You can be spoiled if you’re a Utah Jazz fan. Yeah, you’ve never won a championship but you have unbelievable ownership that’s supportive, you’ve had a long line and list of great general managers and head coaches who have been ultra successful.I think that Dennis Lindsey, Quin Snyder, Miller ownership group, you take those three people with the players that Dennis is assembling, you have a chance to have another extraordinary run of great seasons backed by playoff success.”"

As nice as that championship would be (and hopefully will be somewhere down the road), it’s hard to argue that the Jazz haven’t had an incredible run. When you look at the 20 straight years of making the playoffs between 1984 and 2003, then how quickly the team has been able to get back on track since its last playoff appearance in 2012, it’s really quite impressive.

Especially when looking at some of the other teams around the league that along with not having a championship, have had little postseason success, or perhaps have had some past success but show no signs of recuperating any time soon, you have to feel grateful for what the Jazz have been able to accomplish.

The last thing that Van Gundy spoke on that related directly to the Jazz was how they can overcome the large gap between themselves and the league’s best, namely the Golden State Warriors. Or, as 1280 The Zone’s Spencer Checketts put it, how they can go from a nice young team to a team contending for a ring.

JVG pointed out that player retention was the first step, stating that keeping Hayward as well as point guard George Hill would be the top priority. From there, he mentioned chemistry by saying it was critical to make sure anybody else added to the core is a fit and doesn’t take away from somebody else.

He then said that winning experiences will also go a long way to help Utah continue to improve and take the next step. Fortunately, winning Game 7 on the road against a tough LA Clippers team after having lost a heartbreaking Game 6 at home was an excellent winning experience, one that Van Gundy referred to as an “extraordinary tool moving forward.” He than stated matter-of-factly that “[The Jazz] are as good as anybody not named Golden State.”

Then after briefly discussing how hard it will be for any team to beat the Warriors, he finished by adding, “They have a lot still left to do, but man, what a year it was for the Utah Jazz.”

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And I’m not about to argue with Jeff Van Gundy there. What a year it was indeed. And if some of his predictions and insight hold true, then the Utah Jazz and their fans ought to be in for a marvelous run in the years to come.