I was feeling pretty good a week ago about the Utah Jazz’s ability to keep Gordon Hayward. He was the face of the franchise, the #1 option, the hero that gave the Jazz a playoff series victory. I kept hearing about how Quin Snyder had coached him longer than Brad Stevens. I heard how he dug the #Stayward campaign, and I was excited to be a part of the video.
But Jimmy Butler was traded to the T-Wolves. And Chris Paul moved to beef up the Rockets. And Paul George went to the Thunder. And rumors swirled that LeBron isn’t recruiting players to Cleveland, that he’s thinking of going to L.A. in 2018. And no big names were moving East.
I was mad/sad when Chris Haynes first broke the story that Hayward was leaving. But then over the 4th of July, I kept furiously refreshing my phone. Woj says he hasn’t decided. Is there hope? After putting my phone down for a couple hours and enjoying my family, as one should, I picked it back up and saw the despondence.
Five Ways This Is Particularly Painful
1. The Utah Jazz did nothing wrong. Sure, people are pointing to the decision to not max him out three years ago, when he was averaging 16/5/5 but on 41.3% shooting, including 30.4% from 3. They knew they’d match whatever offer he received. Ever since then, they’ve done whatever they could to please him. They got rid of Ty Corbin (a year too late) and replaced him with Quin Snyder. They made moves to boost the talent around him. Especially this season, they said we’re in win-now mode by surrounding him with veterans like George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw. They even made moves like trading for Ricky Rubio because Hayward said he’d like to play with him.
2. He dragged it out and left the Jazz high and dry. By not signalling in advance, the Jazz could have moved him for assets the way the Clippers and Pacers at least got something for losing their stars. If he’d let them know after he’d opted out, they could have pursued other options more quickly. And then when word leaked out, instead of owning it, they dragged it out for hours so they could get his Players Tribune post just right.
3. That actual Players Tribune post. What a shallow nothingburger that was. Did he mention any of his teammates? No. And his last line about how it was time to win a championship? He’s admitting right there that he can’t be the #1 option on a championship team, that he has no faith Utah is capable of putting together a championship team, and that Utah was always just a stepping stone, a building block before he went to the big market with the bright lights to actually, you know, win. If he’d have won a ring here, he’d have been to Utah what Dirk is to Dallas. But nah.
4. The national smugness. Many national talking-heads/columnists thought Hayward would stay, but many more just assumed he would leave. It was a foregone conclusion for them. In fact, the real choice was Boston or Miami. The market size! The banners! The legacy! Of course a kid who grew up in Indiana didn’t want to stay in the West. Now they’ve been proven right. If Utah can’t keep the centerpiece of everything they’ve done on a 50+ win team, what hope is there for other small markets? Should Oklahoma City just trade Westbrook and George at the deadline, regardless of their record?
5. What if everyone had just been healthy? If the Jazz’s top seven guys could have each played 75+ games, this would have been a 56-58 win team. He would have been crazy to bolt from such a team, even if the Warriors are in the West.
So to recap the West so far:
Warriors – the best team in history got better
Spurs – still have Kawhi Leonard
Rockets – added Chris Paul
Clippers – lost CP3 but gained Gallo & a bench.
Jazz – lost Hayward & Hill, gained Rubio
Thunder – gained Paul George
Grizzlies – Lost ZBo, might be blowing it up
Blazers – trapped in luxury tax by overpaying Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe
Nuggets – gained Paul Millsap
Pelicans – still have AD & DMC
Mavs – in lottery for reason
Kings – added Hill & ZBo
T-Wolves – added Jimmy Butler & Jeff Teague, lost Rubio
Lakers – biding their time til 2018
Suns – in lottery for reason
The Jazz still have a good team. It’s no longer a team that’d tie for fourth in the West; it’s now a team that is just as likely to miss the playoffs as get the sixth seed. It’s also a team that’d still finish fourth in the East, but them’s the Conference breaks. It’s now up to Quin to see if he can get Derrick Favors back on board and come up with an offense minus last year’s top two scorers.