Rudy Gobert recently shed some further light on the Gordon Hayward situation and also provided Utah Jazz fans with great reason for optimism about the team’s future.
While it’s easy for fans to get worked up about Gordon Hayward’s decision to leave the Utah Jazz for the Boston Celtics, one ought to also remember that his choice is very likely even more devastating for those who played alongside him. His teammates were the ones who did battle beside him on the court and who knew just how special of a group they could become if they retained their All-Star.
Unfortunately, now we will never know “what could have been.” And while all of Gordon’s former teammates likely feel somewhat spurned, perhaps none has more right to be upset than Gordon’s former right-hand man Rudy Gobert.
Even though Hayward was Utah’s lone All-Star this past season, it’s not hard to make an argument that Gobert was the Jazz’s most important player. As the anchor on defense, the emotional leader and by far one of the most improved guys on the team, he was a large part of the Jazz’s success.
And in what should come as little surprise, his unique characteristics were also a major selling point that the Jazz used in their free agency meeting with the now-departed All-Star. According to a recent article from the Salt Lake Tribune’s Tony Jones and Aaron Falk, “The Jazz showed Hayward statistical evidence that not only was Gobert the best center in the league, but also he is a better player than anyone on the Celtics’ roster.”
The two could have indeed continued to be a formidable duo, but unfortunately, that apparently wasn’t enough to coax him to stay. Therefore, while there have been a jumble of different takes on the days leading up to Hayward’s decision as well as what he ultimately chose, perhaps the most interesting of viewpoints would be that of none other than Rudy Gobert himself.
And fortunately at a recent summer league game, the Stifle Tower spoke to the media to give his exact thoughts on the matter.
He expressed that although he was “happy” for Gordon Hayward, he was quite displeased with “the way he handled it.” He then went on to say the following, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon:
"“To all his teammates, all the guys that he competed with for years, guys that sacrificed for him and for the team, not necessarily tell us but make sure as a team we can keep going forward if he leaves. I think that wasn’t the best way to do it, but I’m over it now. I’m just focused on the team.”"
In other words, it’s more than evident that the communication, or better put, the lack thereof, was far from pleasing to Gobert. Not to mention, it sounds like Rudy was quite understanding about Hayward’s overall decision to leave, but the fact that the way in which he did so left the Jazz high and dry with no means to replace their starting small forward certainly rubbed Gobert the wrong way.
And knowing what he’s capable of on the defensive end, I have a feeling that Rudy is one of the last people that you’d want to rub the wrong way. Hopefully when the Jazz and Celtics take the court against each other next season, Hayward will learn that as well.
Gobert also went on to comment about the free agency meeting that he and some of his teammates and Jazz executives held with Hayward in his San Diego home, noting that it was “cool” given that they did “everything [they] could have done”, but also noted on more than one occasion that the meeting itself was “awkward.”
That’s probably largely because, as Rudy himself admitted, he could probably see the writing on the wall. In terms of his reaction to Hayward’s decision to leave the Jazz, he also had the following to say:
"“I’m not surprised Gordon left. I could sense he was leaning toward Boston.”"
In my mind, it truly is a shame that Gordon is leaving behind a teammate such as Rudy. It’s hard to imagine finding a guy that makes more of an impact without having to have the ball in his hands at all times and one that has such a will and desire to work and win as Rudy does. I mentioned in a recent podcast that I believe Hayward is going to be in for a bit of a rude awakening after realizing just what he lost in parting ways with Rudy Gobert, and I still stand by that.
Fortunately, though, Gobert also provided some very reassuring insight on the future of the Jazz, including some high praise for his teammates and his loyalty to the organization. Per the Salt Lake Tribune, Rudy said:
"“My vision is to win a championship, that’s my mentality. Nothing changes. I want to get better as a player, and I want to help my team win. Nothing changes. We have to push on, and we have to be good as a team. I want to help us achieve that.We’re going to have to be a defensive-minded team. We’re going to have to be an unselfish team. We’re going to play at a faster pace. We have to do all of those things.We just have to keep getting better and keep competing. We’re not worried about who’s not here. We’re ready to keep playing and we want to keep competing.”"
In other words, the Jazz are going to maintain their hard-nosed, versatile, next-man-up type of mentality that got them into the second round of the playoffs this past season. And while repeating that performance will be hard to do without Gordon Hayward, Rudy’s responses make it seem very plausible.
In a recent article of my own, I went out on a limb and pinned the Jazz as still being capable of finishing sixth in the Western Conference. That will no doubt take a lot of improvement and determination, not to mention a significant amount of luck, but with an extremely confident player who has the skills to back it up in Rudy Gobert who will be leading the charge, I truly like Utah’s chances.
And hopefully, when Rudy’s time to hit unrestricted free agency comes, Jazz fans will be rewarded with a much different outcome. A lot could change in four years, but Rudy’s recent statements should still provide fans with a great deal of optimism:
Furthermore, according to Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune, Gobert also said, “My situation is too good for me to leave right now. I love the team. I love the organization. I love the situation I’m in right now.”
All of those quotes are incredible signs that the Jazz may very well be able to retain their budding star for many years to come. And in light of what Gordon Hayward just put his former fans through, one can only hope that such will be the case.