Utah Jazz: Golden State Warriors dominance could push Hayward out

May 2, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the third quarter in game one of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Jazz 106-94. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
May 2, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the third quarter in game one of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Jazz 106-94. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The dominance of the Golden State Warriors could influence Gordon Hayward to make a change this offseason, but he may find it harder than one would think to find a better landing spot than with the Utah Jazz.

The question that is securely on the mind of every single Utah Jazz fan to the point that it probably haunts them at night is – Will Gordon Hayward stay or go? The impending free agent All-Star had a breakout season in 2016-17 that coincided with the Utah Jazz likewise breaking back into the NBA Playoffs where they went as far as to win a seven-game series in the first round against the LA Clippers.

Now, however, all that success that has been built seems to be teetering precariously on the edge of a cliff as a simple decision from Hayward has the potential to send the Jazz tumbling backwards. Of course, if Hayward opts to stay, then it would have the opposite effect, likely poising the Jazz to compete for a top-three seed in the West for the foreseeable future.

As of right now, his final choice is anything but clear. There have been plenty of rumors speculating that he could leave, but there’s also plenty of reasons for him to stay. In a recent podcast, The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski expressed how difficult it would be for Hayward to leave all the positives that Utah has to offer and I fully agreed with everything he stated.

However, while he provided plenty of reasons for optimism, Woj made it clear that there’s still no guarantee that Hayward would be staying put. He stated that the Jazz had done essentially everything in their power to keep Hayward and provide a good situation for him, but at the end of the day, Gordon’s decision to leave could be based on geography, family, a desire to join the tradition of Boston or any other number of personal reasons.

While that would be disappointing, the one solace could be found in knowing that his departure wasn’t due to the fact that the Jazz did anything wrong, per se, but rather that Hayward simply felt the need to be somewhere else for him to be in the optimal situation.

And while I agree wholeheartedly with Woj on those matters, there’s one other major force that was only briefly alluded to in that recent podcast that I feel could very well drive Hayward out of Utah. What is that force you ask? None other than the Golden State Warriors.

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying what an incredible group the Warriors have built. A team whose core players was made up entirely of their own draft picks put up the best regular season record in NBA history at 73-9 in 2015-16, then the organization still had the financial flexibility and craftiness to add one of the best players of this generation, Kevin Durant.

I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t stand that team and disapprove of Durant’s individual decision to join their ranks, but looking at it purely from a front office perspective, the team they’ve been able to assemble is mind-blowing. Unfortunately, it’s also having a very detrimental effect on the rest of the NBA.

Teams are scrambling to try to figure out a way to compete with this behemoth. Even the former defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers looked like nothing more than a JV squad against the Warriors. Many organizations are realizing that in their current state they have little to no hope of competing with the Warriors in the near future and instead are planning to try to wait them out.

Those that do feel they are close to competing are looking for ways to become more of a super team themselves, hoping to add additional star power and thus only making the league even more top-heavy than it already has been.

With that being the case, guys like Gordon Hayward who are in their prime years and want nothing more than to win a championship are faced with an extremely challenging decision. If the Warriors are currently unbeatable, what can they do or where can they go to possibly reverse that trend? And in trying to find the answer to that question, Hayward could very well find himself departing the Jazz for perceived greener pastures.

One factor influencing that departure could come from the simple fact that he feels he would have a better shot at a championship in the Eastern Conference. Sure, you’d still have to play the Warriors eventually, but at least you’d have a better chance of at least making it to the Finals where you could hope for the perfect storm to occur.

Not to mention, being in the East buys you one more round – one more round where a team could get hot, an injury could occur or something else could happen wherein the Warriors get unlucky and somehow don’t advance. It’s far from a flawless solution, but there is at least some reasonable logic in departing the West and fleeing to the East.

However, the Cleveland Cavaliers are still far from a pushover. And as good as they were this past season, you can bet that they’re going to look to retool this summer and will be even better as they attempt to get their revenge on the Warriors.

And looking at the Boston Celtics, the team many figure is the favorite to steal Hayward away from Utah, they were defeated in just five games by the Cavs, who went on to be wiped out by the Warriors in just five games. In other words, if the gap between the Cavs and Celtics is large, then the gap between the Warriors and Celtics is about ten times as big.

I sincerely doubt that adding Hayward to the Celtics would be nearly enough on its own to get them past the Cavs and certainly wouldn’t be enough to surpass the Warriors.

But beyond simply fleeing the Western Conference for the East, the Warriors could push Hayward out for another reason. Although the Utah Jazz are a great team, unfortunately in their current state they don’t appear to be a match for the Warriors just yet. That’s certainly a bummer, because take Golden State out of the picture and the Jazz have an intriguing case as a title contender with their current squad intact and healthy.

However, if Hayward is dead set on a championship as his primary goal, although he may love the Jazz and under normal circumstances wish to stay with them, then he may see that the only way to beat such a super team, is to become a super team. Thus, Hayward’s departure could be motivated less by wanting to leave the Jazz and more by hoping to find a destination where he can team up with other stars and really make a run at the defending champs.

That’s where the whispered rumors about Hayward potentially being a target for the San Antonio Spurs comes in, or perhaps where an enormous collaboration effort by Miami Heat president Pat Riley allows a congregation of stars in South Beach (because that’s never happened before, right?).

Still, even those are long-shots and the fact of the matter is, while the Warriors might be the driving force pushing Hayward out to seek a team where he can defeat them, such a squad might not exist – at least not one that has the proper assets or interest in adding him. Realistically, barring a blockbuster move this summer, it’s hard to see any team besides Cleveland or San Antonio being able to present any sort of realistic challenge next year regardless of what Hayward does.

Therefore, my hope for Hayward is that, although the Warriors clearly are the league’s giant right now and they will certainly alter the landscape of the NBA, he won’t sell the Jazz short as he’s making his decision this offseason. Even though it has yet to come to true fruition, the Jazz have long been pinned by fans and foes alike as one that could give Golden State trouble.

With Rudy Gobert in the mix and a style that helps nullify some of the Warriors’ strengths, believing that to be the case isn’t a stretch by any means. Had Utah been healthy in the second round of the playoffs this year, who knows how much more of a challenge they might have presented.

And quite frankly, though he didn’t receive official All-Star honors this year, Gobert is already the second star on the Jazz squad. If Hayward is looking for a super team caliber teammate, he need not look far as he and Rudy combined are the early makings of such a team. If the Jazz can add another key piece in free agency or a trade this offseason, suddenly we’re starting to see a really competitive team.

With all that being said, I recognize that the Jazz are still far from being able to defeat the Warriors. However, the same can be said for essentially the rest of the league, and Hayward has to know that. As tempting as it may be to look for a shortcut and join another team, Hayward would likely be better served continuing to build the incredible team that he’s constructed from the ground up in Utah and playing where he’s comfortable, confident and effective.

If Hayward stays, they still likely won’t be able to beat the Warriors in 2018. But give it two or three years, and as the team continues on the upswing and the mastermind Dennis Lindsey continues to pull strings, we could see one heck of a force to be reckoned with sooner rather than later.

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Thus, the Golden State Warriors’ dominance may have quite a bit of influence on Hayward’s decision this offseason and I would understand if he opted to find a situation where he felt he could best compete with them.

However, if he really does some searching, while the allure of teams like Boston and Miami will be there along with the thought of moving to the easier Eastern Conference, I think he’ll find that he’d be hard-pressed to find a better long-term situation than with the Utah Jazz.