Much has been said about Gordon Hayward potentially jettisoning himself from the Utah Jazz. Are we forgetting that he could actually, you know, stay?
If you hit that spot on the Venn diagram of humanity where Utah Jazz fandom and excessive worry intersect, you’re probably in a bit of a rough spot at the moment.
With Jazz star Gordon Hayward likely opting out of his current deal with the team when free agency hits this summer, you’ve been left with some potentially painful things to think about. Especially in recent weeks.
By failing to make an All-NBA team, for example, Hayward became ineligible for a designated veteran player extension that would have netted him a super-max contract worth multiple tens of millions of dollars more from the Jazz than he could get from any other team.
It’s long been considered one of Utah’s trump cards in this process and it’s suddenly out the window (for now).
Then you have the Boston Celtics and all of the scary things they entail, i.e. Hayward’s college coach running the show, a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference, the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft (and maybe even next year’s too), as well as C’s star Isaiah Thomas prioritizing talent acquisition over his own salary.
We also have the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs all out there acting as intriguing landing spots should G-Time decide to jettison himself from the Jazz ship. Not to mention starting point guard George Hill’s prospects for re-upping in Utah looking fiscally problematic at best.
If Hill goes, what’s to stop Hayward, right?
Having said all of that, I’m here to tell you not to panic. Step away from the ledge. Despite the bad mojo that’s out there currently, there’s still a good chance that everything is going to be OK.
The pull of greener grass notwithstanding, the fact remains that the yard Hayward has helped build with the Jazz is looking pretty slick these days. Maybe not Kentucky bluegrass at Augusta National green, but at least as solid as the infield at Wrigley.
Indeed, after winning 51 games and a playoff series last season despite a mountain of injuries, the Jazz, as they are, have the look of a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.
Even in today’s fast, furious and free-flowing NBA, a dominant defensive presence down low remains at or near the top of every GM’s wish list and the Jazz already have theirs. Rudy Gobert is arguably the best defensive big man in the game and, after inking him to an extension this season, the Jazz have him on lockdown for the next several years.
His offensive game continues to grow and develop as well; in both phases of the game the Stifle Tower is a top-shelf running mate for a talented and versatile wing like Hayward.
Looking beyond Gobert, the Jazz have a roster brimming with talented young players like Rodney Hood, Dante Exum and Trey Lyles. Each had their struggles last season, but they also present an opportunity for internal growth not present with Hayward’s other suitors.
Hood could be one of the better starting two-guards in the Association with a bit of seasoning, while Exum could be the team’s point-man of the future and Lyles a prototypical playmaking big.
Setting Hayward’s status to the side, the biggest question mark facing the team at this point in time is Hill’s potential departure. And while he’s probably seeking a deal outside of the team’s price range, he’s also on the wrong side of 30 and coming off an injury-plagued 2016-17 campaign.
It’s the kind of combination that could prevent teams from making mega-money offers, which may make Utah Hill’s best bet. After all, he knows the players, the coaching staff and the system. And all three proved to work quite well for him this past season.
Even if the team can’t retain Hill, I like to believe the Jazz could go out and get another point guard of similar stature if they have their other core pieces in place. The presence of Hayward, Gobert and Quin Snyder’s offense could make quite the pitch for a Jrue Holiday type, just to throw a name out there.
Oh, and about that DPE — while Hayward didn’t qualify for the super max this summer, he could re-sign with the Jazz on a 1+1 deal, get his All-NBA creds next summer, then get his big payday at that juncture.
Good things come to those who wait, and if Hayward is confident he can crack all-league status next season, waiting will be well worth it.
On a recent episode of ESPN’s The Jump, a panel including Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley discussed the Hayward-to-Boston hubbub. Despite the growing Celtics hype, Conley counts himself among those hoping Hayward will stay put.
“I know that it’s the popular choice to go back to Boston to reunite with his coach,” Conley said, “but I still like him in Utah. I really do. I love what they got going on there and they really got something special.”
Conley is onto something here, something that Jazz Nation is fully in-tune with. Which is why it should come as no surprise that #Stayward billboards currently dot the streets of Salt Lake City.
Call me old-fashioned, overly optimistic or even flat-out naive, but as much as rosters, the salary situation or the ability to flee Eastward and avoid the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors play into Hayward’s decision-making process, I think a statement like this counts for something as well.
The way the city of Salt Lake and the state of Utah have embraced Hayward is a beautiful thing. In a land dominated by the ghosts Stockton-to-Malone, Hayward has managed to endear himself to a fanbase like few before him.
The cheering section aside, Utah is also the place where Hayward has honed his game, become one of basketball’s rising stars and built a life for himself and a family. He wasn’t born in Salt Lake City, but it’s still the place where he grew from that floppy-haired kid who was good at StarCraft to the muscle-bound All-Star with the hipster haircut.
Again, all of this has to mean something to the man. The reasons to leave are many, but so too are the reasons to stay put.
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Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey and the Miller Family have built something special, as Conley put it, with the Jazz and Hayward has been part of that. Lindsey and Co. may have their work cut out for them in keeping Hayward in-house, but they’re not coming to the arms race with an empty chamber either.
So keep the faith, Jazz fans. The sky isn’t falling and this isn’t the time for doom and gloom.
Not yet anyway.