San Antonio pegged as dark horse landing spot for Utah Jazz’s Gordon Hayward

Apr 2, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward (20) drives to the basket past San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward (20) drives to the basket past San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

Bleacher Report recently listed the San Antonio Spurs as a dark horse destination for Gordon Hayward. How concerned should the Utah Jazz be?

In terms of Gordon Hayward’s impending free agency, the Boston Celtics have long been listed as potential suitors for the Utah Jazz All-Star and after today’s reports, the Miami Heat now appear to be another of the supposed front runners to nab him if he opts to leave Utah. However, to think those two teams will be the only ones vying for Hayward’s services this offseason would be extremely inaccurate.

After proving his worth beyond a shadow of a doubt last season and establishing himself as not only an All-Star caliber talent, but as a legitimate difference maker, many teams hoping to land a high-impact player will be in pursuit of Hayward.

A little over two weeks ago, Sports Illustrated’s Danny Leroux suggested that the San Antonio Spurs could be an ideal landing spot for the prized free agent and just yesterday, Bleacher Report matched that sentiment by selecting the Spurs as a dark horse candidate for signing Hayward for this upcoming season.

Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale brought up some excellent points when discussing just how and why San Antonio and Hayward could be an unexpected but logical fit and, although it might be painful for Jazz fans, I recommend they read his take in its entirety via the link in the tweet above, especially considering that George Hill finds himself on the list as well. Of everything he said, though, these were the two statements that stood out the most to me:

"When your incumbent team is coming off 51 wins and a second-round playoff berth, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better situation. You have to be picky. And San Antonio meets the requirements of the most selective mercenaries."

"Two of LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Danny Green will get jilted instead. San Antonio comes reasonably close to max money by trading Gasol into someone’s cap space and getting rid anyone who isn’t a core piece. That might be enough to land Hayward without dumping Green or turning Aldridge into a combination of cheaper contributors.Whatever the cost, Hayward allows the Spurs to play smaller without cramping Kawhi Leonard’s style. A majority of his minutes came at power forward during Utah’s playoff run, and he can split ball-handling duties with Leonard, ensuring the offense doesn’t miss a beat while Parker rehabs his quad and Dejounte Murray learns more of the ropes."

In other words, first and foremost if Gordon Hayward’s top priority is to win a championship, then he’d be hard-pressed to find any better squad than the San Antonio Spurs. The three and a half quarters or so of their Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors prior to Kawhi Leonard’s injury is proof enough of that in itself, not to mention a long legacy of excellence and a remarkably renowned coach in Gregg Popovich.

Beyond that, Kawhi Leonard has a legitimate case for being the second best player in the league (despite all the recent hype surrounding Kevin Durant while surrounded by three All-Stars), and is an absolute superstar who ought to be among the few to strike fear into the heart of the Warriors. And although he and Hayward largely play the same position, both are versatile enough that they could coexist with one of them playing either the two or the four in certain lineups.

Of course, as Favale alludes to in his article, the biggest obstacle facing the Spurs will be how to make a Hayward signing work financially. However, if any team is capable of working some money magic, it’s the Spurs. Much like the Warriors had to part ways with former key pieces such as Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut to make way for the much more crucial Kevin Durant, you can bet that if the opportunity was there, the Spurs would clear the space to add Hayward.

Moving two of Aldridge, Gasol or Green as stated above would essentially do it, meaning that not only does Hayward have a reason to join San Antonio, but the Spurs may very well be able to find a way to afford him. And that’s kind of a scary thought.

So how worried should Jazz fans be about Hayward joining up with the Spurs? Well, that quite frankly depends on two things – how serious Hayward is about winning being his absolute, end-all priority and how badly the Spurs want to pursue him and add him to their ranks.

If Hayward’s decision comes down to championship aspirations, then in all honesty, Utah could be in trouble. As much as I love the Jazz, admire what the team has done up to this point and feel pleased with the direction the organization is heading, the simple truth is they still aren’t the San Antonio Spurs.

Whether Jazz fans like it or not, the Spurs are closer to title contention than the Jazz, so if Hayward simply wants to go to the organization that gives him his best shot, San Antonio is the one that best accomplishes that (obviously operating under the certain assumption that Golden State won’t pursue him). That’s unfortunately not good news for Jazz fans.

However, it doesn’t spell certain doom by any means. The Spurs have been much more closely linked to Chris Paul than Hayward and honestly none of the rumors surrounding Hayward and San Antonio have come anywhere close to explicitly saying that the Spurs themselves are pursuing him. It’s likely little more than speculation at this point, no matter how realistic of a possibility it may be.

In other words, perhaps Hayward would like to go to the Spurs to give him that best shot of winning, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be willing to make it work or that he is the one they will necessarily have in their sights. If such is the case, then Utah may be able to dodge a bullet, because regardless of the allures of other teams associated with Hayward such as the Celtics or Heat, I truly believe the Jazz have just as good of a winning argument.

So while it may very well be true that the Spurs are a dark horse candidate to add Hayward, it’s far from a guarantee. Gordon obviously will have several options to consider and the Jazz without a doubt have a good case of their own for him to stay and will give all they’ve got to accomplish just that.

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If it’s not in the cards, though, I can only wish Gordon Hayward well and hope that his decision will eventually lead to his new team causing the downfall of the current league powerhouse Golden State Warriors.

But even though I’d be happy to see him do that with whichever team he’s with, if he was to leave Utah to do it, I’ll never be able to help but wonder what he then could have accomplished had he stayed in a Jazz uniform.