The NBA rumor mill is churning at full force and before Utah Jazz All-Star Gordon Hayward can make his ultimate free agency decision, he’ll likely have to first see what comes of Paul George and Jimmy Butler.
For Utah Jazz fans, without a doubt the main story line this offseason revolves around Gordon Hayward’s free agency decision. The answer to that one simple question – Will he stay or will he go? – will alter the path of the franchise for years to come.
After a breakout All-Star season that helped Hayward solidify himself as one of the league’s best small forwards, there’s no questioning why his decision will be so crucial for the Jazz. And with that being the case, it’s also no surprise that so many teams will be in pursuit of his services this offseason.
And while Hayward’s final decision was likely never going to be easy – for him or for other teams involved – believe it or not due to recent developments in the NBA, that choice just became even harder.
Just this week, news broke that Paul George informed the Indiana Pacers that his intention is to leave in free agency following the 2018 season, preferably to join the Los Angeles Lakers. Unsurprisingly, that announcement led to an onslaught of trade rumors surrounding the Pacers All-Star, who the team will desperately look to move rather than lose for nothing.
In addition to the Paul George situation, recent reports have been surfacing (or perhaps I should say revamping) that another two-way All-Star, Jimmy Butler, who is no stranger to trade rumors, is also being pursued in multiple trades including to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics.
As soon as Boston made the trade to send their first overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers, there was heightened speculation that they were concocting a scheme to nab Butler. However, the Cavs potentially trading for his services is a more recent development.
What’s perhaps most compelling about these situations is that originally Gordon Hayward was viewed as the primary prize at his position this offseason (excluding Kevin Durant whose intent to re-sign with Golden State was always clear).
In terms of free agent prizes, that’s still very much the case. However, interestingly enough, due to the high possibility that both Paul George and Jimmy Butler – two players who have oft been compared to Hayward and to one other – are going to be traded this offseason, teams may actually have their sights set on either a different star to add to their mix or perhaps even the creation of a brand new kind of super team.
Paul George has already been connected to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, among others, but of course ultimately the Pacers are going to move him to whichever team provides them with the best offer.
While George is practically a certainty to be traded this summer, Jimmy Butler’s future is less clear. Teams are more than likely coming in pursuit of him and I think there’s a very high chance that he does get traded, but I’m still not totally convinced that the Chicago Bulls are dead-set on giving him up. Persuading them to loosen their grip on one of the league’s premier two-way players who just so happens to be on an extremely friendly contract isn’t going to be easy by any means.
There have been recent reports that Butler is pushing for a trade to Cleveland, though, so that could very well end up changing the Bulls’ mind.
However, the fact of the matter is that whenever All-Stars such as Butler or George are being mentioned as possibly joining a new team, it has an enormous impact on the league as whole. Either of them being traded away from their current team to join a new squad could very well alter the landscape of the NBA as well as dramatically change the mindset and plans of both the teams acquiring them and giving them up, as well as the rest of the league’s competitors.
As such, given that Gordon Hayward has the advantage over Butler and George in that he actually controls his fate as a free agent this offseason, before he can make the best possible decision for himself, he’ll likely need to wait for the dust to settle and for both Butler and George to be in their presumed new locations.
If one of them goes to the Cleveland Cavaliers, does this prevent Boston, a long-time Hayward suitor and current title hopeful, from becoming a true contender? If Boston pulls the trigger on a move to acquire either George or Butler, is that their replacement for Hayward or is that their attempt to lure him into their ranks to create a wing-heavy super team to rival that of the Golden State Warriors?
These are a few of the most brought-up scenarios that have been mentioned, but they’re certainly far from the only ones. Paul George has been mentioned in connection to about half the league, including Western Conference teams such as the Los Angeles Clippers and even the Utah Jazz. If the Jazz themselves made a play for George, that of course would further influence Hayward’s decision, likely in a positive way for Utah fans.
In short, even though George and Butler aren’t free agents, the fact that they are now very much on the market means that three comparable and highly skilled All-Stars are being sought after by various teams across the league. Before Hayward is able to come to a final and conclusive decision about where he’d like to play next season, he will more than likely need to see where his All-Star colleagues wind up if he hopes to truly be able to put himself in the most desirable situation.
Fortunately, the Pacers have indicated that they want to move fast on trading away Paul George, likely hoping that they can move him for some picks in this year’s draft. There’s obviously been no urgency nor certainty from the Chicago Bulls camp on moving Butler, but one would assume that if they’re planning to move him, they’d have a similar idea in mind.
With that being the case, ideally both situations will be resolved well before the start of free agency on July 1, giving Hayward plenty of time to contemplate his future and come to the wisest decision.
With Cleveland clearly looking to retool and further improve (though the sudden and controversial parting of ways between the Cavs and GM David Griffin may form questions of vulnerability), unless adding Hayward and a second All-Star such as one of the aforementioned players is in the cards for the Celtics, Gordon may very well be hard-pressed to find a team in a better position to compete for a championship in the upcoming years than his current Utah Jazz squad.
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Nevertheless, although the Cavs and Warriors are the kings of the league right now until some team says otherwise, the ultimate destination of both George and Butler could very well open up some intriguing possibilities for Hayward as he’s weighing his options.
And Jazz brass better be ready to combat whatever opposing teams have in store for that pair of guys if they hope to retain Hayward’s services in 2017-18 and beyond.