As the dust settles from last remaining big free agency question, one thing is clear: The Utah Jazz got shafted big time by Gordon Hayward choosing to leave and join the Boston Celtics. The timing, the decision itself, everything. Years in the making, of making good decisions, fell apart, leaving the team clutching at straws to remain relevant out West.
Before we continue, this isn’t about making Hayward look like the bad guy. He made what he thinks is the right decision for him. Join a team that gives him a better shot at winning and getting further in the playoffs, while joining a head coach he nearly won a national championship with in college. He also gave up some money by leaving the Jazz, his team for the last 7 seasons. He’s not a bad guy, but while his signing means (finally) talent going from West to East, it also really screws over the Jazz.
Hayward leaves the Jazz without their top scorer and arguably most important player last season. Teams have recovered from someone of his calibre leaving, but not when he does it 4 days into free agency after the good options have all been taken, while he also costs them a few extra hours by denying the leak that correctly predicted him going to Boston.
If you ask Hayward’s agent, Hayward flipped-flopped with his decisions for days, before settling on Boston, but deciding he’ll do it through the Players Tribune. Doesn’t sound believable. It wasn’t surprising to hear theories about Hayward already choosing Boston, and then postponing his official announcement until he finished his article for the Players Tribune. But he knew he was going to Boston hours, maybe a day or more before it was finally announced.
Who do the Jazz go for now? Otto Porter? Rudy Gay? Jeff Green? It doesn’t matter. Even if they got Ricky Rubio in place of George Hill (upgrade, downgrade), it doesn’t matter. The Jazz have been building towards competing in the West for a number of years, doing it right, making Hayward the player to build around after preventing him from joining the Charlotte Bobcats through free agency a few years ago.
Hayward’s decision doesn’t decimate them, but it it certainly takes them a few steps backwards. The worst case scenario is that their process, last season bringing them to the conference semifinals, will be completely derailed. His decisions sheds a light on the problems small-market teams have, even when they’re run the right way and have a solid, strong and committed fan base, when it comes to keeping their best players. The Jazz offered more money and more years than Boston, but Hayward still preferred to leave. It’s a problem for Utah right now, but it was a problem for Oklahoma City last season, and it’ll be a problem for someone else next year.