The Utah Jazz finally made it back to the playoffs. Years and years of stockpiling young talent were followed by bringing in veterans like Joe Johnson and George Hill resulted in them winning eleven more games than the previous season and rising from their ninth-place finish to fifth this year.Veteran leadership helped them get where they got this season, but so did the production of Gordon Hayward. The seven-year pro enjoyed what was his best season, averaging 21 points and five rebounds a game while playing in 73 games.
The Jazz would go on to the postseason and would win their first postseason series in what seems like forever against the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games. That feeling had to be great for that franchise, but what was waiting for them in the next series was not so kind. The Jazz would face the defending Western Conference champions, the Golden State Warriors. Some thought they would compete and maybe win a game or two in the series. Well, Golden State was not having any of that. The Warriors dominated the Jazz all series long, sweeping them out of the playoffs and ending their season. The year may not have ended well, but the Jazz did better than some thought they would and Hayward was the main cog in it. Now that the off season has arrived for the Jazz, there are some big decisions that have to be made. George Hill, their starting point guard and second-leading scorer, is a free agent. Along with Hill being a free agent, there is another player that could be a free agent this summer and his name is Gordon Hayward.
Does he stay or does he go is the question? Well, let’s take a look at if he stays in Utah. Hayward has said that he loves things in Utah with his family. Along with loving things in Utah, he has to love the progression of the team from a team being on the edge of the playoffs to progressing to the second round. The youth on this team is trending upward and could only get better and better. The Jazz could actually be better next year and be competing even more in the NBA’s Western Conference. Hayward has one of two options should he decide to stay in Utah. He could decide to pull his name out of the free agent pool and opt in to his last year in Utah. By doing so, he would reach eight years with the organization and that would make him eligible for a super-max contract extension which could pay him over $200 million for five seasons. His other option is opting out and then maybe signing a two-year deal with an opt-out after one year or just re-signing for the full allotted max, which would mean he wants to lose one year and what amounts to $48 million. Either way, staying in Utah would give Hayward the money and the chance to build something in Utah. Of course, it isn’t necessarily going to be easy with teams like the Warriors and Spurs still hovering around, but Hayward may like his chances.
Hayward would be beloved in Utah if he stayed there, but fairytale endings like him winning a title in Utah isn’t very realistic. The team would be talented once again next season, but they would still have some steps to go through in order to make themselves title contenders. Plus, who is going to be the star sidekick to Hayward in Utah? George Hill (if he were to re-sign and Hayward comes back) is not the answer as a second option on a title team. So looking over the landscape, there is one team that could plug him in and get better instantly. That team: the Boston Celtics. Right now, they have Jae Crowder at the small forward position. He is a talented wing player that can shoot the three-pointer, defend and he brings a certain grit to the Celtics team. While those are all good things from a role player, that is not all that you need from a star player. Hayward upgrades their small forward position and gives them another playmaker on the perimeter. Also in adding Hayward, it would allow some pressure to be taken off of Isaiah Thomas to have to do everything scoring and assisting for the Celtics. One other underrated part of Hayward going to the Celtics would be him playing for his old college coach, Brad Stevens. Although he has been out of his system for a while now, the connection between both is still there and he would fit in that team perfectly while giving them an even better chance to win the East. It may be less money, but he could be in a better situation to get closer to that title assuming that is what he wants to do.
Hayward is a talented player that can help a lot of teams but ultimately, it could come down to the Celtics and the Jazz if he is to opt out of the last year of his contract. If he stays in Boston, then he continues to build upon what he helped start in Utah. Should he decide to leave and go to somewhere like Boston, the pressure will pick up along with the expectations, as he would be considered a piece to take the Celtics over the top. Decision time is upon Hayward and many will be watching to see what he does.
The General Mike Patton is an up-and-coming writer from Nashville, TN who brings a fresh and non-biased opinion about sports. From his radio experience in Nashville to his time as a sports writer for Free’s World, the website for radio personality and former co-host of BET’s 106 and Park Free (www.freesworld.com), The General is definitely one you want to get to know in the sports world. You can catch his work on SPORTSAWAKENING.COM. Mike grew up rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bulls, and Chicago Cubs and remains a passionate sports fan who expresses intelligent opinions.