The free agency decision of Utah Jazz All-Star Gordon Hayward has created quite a stir across the league in a number of ways.
Despite the monotony of knowing for essentially the entirety of the 2016-17 NBA season which two teams would end up in the NBA Finals (Thanks Kevin Durant), at least the 2017 offseason has provided some legitimate suspense, surprises and entertainment.
You could point to the shocking moves that sent Jimmy Butler and Paul George to the West and Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets or perhaps the madness regarding the Boston Celtics’ hesitance to deal assets or the fallout of New York Knicks executive Phil Jackson. And that’s just scratching the surface of all the craziness that has gone down since the conclusion of the 2016-17 NBA season.
But for these intents and purposes, I thought it fitting to focus solely on the mania surrounding the impending Gordon Hayward sweepstakes and the resulting pandemonium. It’s been widely known for months that the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics were aiming to lure the free agent star away from the familiar confines of the Utah Jazz, but now that free agency is upon us and meetings are taking place, the possibility of Gordon leaving is seeming more and more real.
His first meeting was in Miami on Saturday where the Heat welcomed him to town with banners depicting the All-Star fashioned in Miami Heat garb, ready to take the floor for a relatively recent title-winning squad. You can see some examples of the banners in the tweets below:
Several reports indicated that Hayward was met by a handful of Heat players including Hassan Whiteside, Udonis Haslem, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and James Johnson (who just so happens to be a free agent himself). He also met with head coach Erik Spoelstra, Heat legend Alonzo Mourning and the guy that many NBA fans consider the Heat’s most dangerous persuader, team president Pat Riley.
Of course, all the reports about the meeting seemed to indicate that it went “extremely well”, but then again, don’t they always seem to imply that? An excerpt from the Miami Herald had the following to say about just what was discussed in Gordon’s meeting with the Heat:
"Besides telling Hayward all of the obvious positives of playing here – weather, lack of state income tax, the Heat culture and championship pedigree – coaches also explained to Hayward how the offense would play to his strengths. The meeting lasted several hours."
There’s no telling how exactly the meeting turned out or what Hayward’s true thoughts were, but whatever happened, it left several media members including The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor and ESPN’s Brian Windhorst feeling like the Heat were in a strong position to land the All-Star.
Then again, national media folks seemed to have recently forgotten that Utah or the Jazz even exist (and that they were a legit playoff force in the much more difficult Western Conference) but we’ll get to that in a minute.
After being wined and dined by the Heat, Hayward made his way to Boston where he was apparently met at the airport by Brad Stevens, his former college coach at Butler and current coach of the Boston Celtics.
Stevens has long been considered one of the main appeals for Hayward to join the C’s given that they had such a strong connection at the collegiate level. However, it is important to note that Gordon also has an incredible relationship with current Jazz head coach Quin Snyder who helped him develop into an All-Star.
So far it’s been revealed that the Celtics treated Gordon and his wife Robyn to a video within Fenway Park highlighting why playing in Boston ought to appeal to him that included a message from Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz (hopefully they slipped up and included Tom Brady in there somewhere).
It was reported previously that the number of people in the meeting would be left rather limited with Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge being the main participants.
Although at the time of this writing, it’s assumed that the meeting is still underway, I imagine that it will also be reported as yet another excellent meeting and some may even venture to guess that the Celtics have all but arisen as the favorites to land Hayward.
If you’re a Jazz fan, you’re probably feeling somewhat unsettled about all of this and for good reason. But feel no fear, Jazz fans, All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive team Jazzman Rudy Gobert made sure to pipe up in the nick of time with a little reminder not only of his awesomeness, but also of the appeal of playing alongside someone like him.
In six simple emojis, Rudy Gobert let teammate Gordon Hayward know how he felt about the teams seeking to woo the All-Star while reminding him what could be achievable if they continue to work together on their current squad:
In other words, Miami is trash, Boston is crap while the Jazz could be destined for greatness. Of course, it should come as no surprise that not long after putting out this tweet, an emoji battle broke out, with Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas doling out the subsequent blow:
Isaiah made it clear that while Miami owns three championship trophies and the Celtics own 17 (thanks Bill Russell!), the Jazz meanwhile have none. Not to be overshadowed by Thomas’ reminder of Boston’s storied legacy, Heat center Hassan Whiteside turned the one-on-one fight into a scrum by throwing a punch of his own in response, reminding Isaiah of the “What have you done for me lately?” take:
In other words, since 2000, the Heat have three times as many rings as Boston and once again as Jazz fans realize all too painfully, their ring count remains empty. However, it’s somewhat interesting that Whiteside and Thomas would be using franchise championships as a selling point for Hayward given that neither of them had anything to do with those victories.
Furthermore, given that Thomas’ team was obliterated by the Cleveland Cavaliers and that Whiteside’s failed to even make the playoffs last season, I’d say both of their arguments are rather moot. Sure, the Jazz have a ways to go, too, but there’s certainly an argument to be made that they have the brighter future, particularly if Danny Ainge continues to simply bank on hording assets and never cashing in.
Frankly, I have to agree with the take of the Twitter user below who calls out Thomas and Whiteside’s foolish tactic of living in the past, referencing championships far removed from what either of them have accomplished in their careers:
One interesting nugget that arose from all the emoji madness and was highlighted by Deseret News’ Jody Genessy was that Sports Illustrated just so happens to be following both Isaiah Thomas and Hassan Whiteside on Twitter, but not Rudy Gobert. For the evidence see below:
This is definitely minor and not worthy of being blown out of proportion, I suppose, although it is quite interesting that one of the most reputed names in sports coverage wouldn’t be following and All-NBA second teamer and All-NBA Defensive first teamer, ESPECIALLY one who is straight fire on social media.
However, this brings to light a much more frustrating issue – the fact that national media has been absolutely biased against the Utah Jazz, almost seeming to hope that Hayward will spurn his incumbent team for the allure of larger markets. While players are sometimes lauded for sticking with the teams they began their career with, when it involves a supposedly less attractive market, often times the narrative changes dramatically.
This was clearly evident a couple weeks back when Sports Illustrated put out a story about number one overall draft pick Markelle Fultz preferring Philadelphia over Boston because it has more Chick-Fil-A restaurants and utilized a social media headline that read “Hopefully Gordon Hayward doesn’t have the same taste as Markelle Fultz.” This basically implied, “Hopefully Hayward doesn’t want to bail on the Celtics as well.”
I get it, this was supposed to be funny, but wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to say something to the effect of “The Boston Celtics better hope…” or “Celtics fans better hope…” instead of implying that what ought to be a non-biased sports media outlet would also be disappointed if Hayward decides not to go to Boston?
And whereas that’s a minor infraction, countless media outlets and individuals have acted completely as if Utah doesn’t even have a horse in the race right now (which honestly couldn’t be further from the truth). Perhaps no example was more egregious than the article below from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst where he essentially painted a picture of Pat Riley vs. Danny Ainge vying for Hayward’s services with nothing more than a slight mention at the bottom of the article about Utah potentially re-signing him.
This narrative has repeated itself countless times, however, as the Jazz’s chances of winning the Hayward sweepstakes have gone largely ignored in the national media. Thank goodness for one of ESPN’s newest additions – the long-trusted Adrian Wojnarowski – who was one of the few who made it known that Jazz brass feels confident and has an excellent chance of retaining their All-Star.
Even if I had absolutely zero interest in the Utah Jazz, I would be rooting for Hayward to stay in Utah for the simple reason that I would love for his decision to shut down all of the big-wigs that seem so certain about his fleeing what they paint as “the terrible lifestyle in a small market town” in exchange for a more appealing bigger market team.
Gordon meets with the Utah Jazz on Monday where they’ll have the opportunity to match and ideally surpass the pitches of both the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. He’s made it clear that he intends to make a quick decision from there, so hopefully the feeling of pins and needles won’t have to last all that much longer for Jazz fans.
Regardless of what he decides, be it to the rejoicing or disappointment of Jazz fans, one thing is certain, between the fanfare recruiting efforts, entertaining emoji wars and the often times head-scratching and disheartening media bias, it’s been an entertaining free agency run for the coveted Jazz All-Star.