Does Gordon Hayward Make the Boston Celtics a Championship Contender?
In the late afternoon on July 4, Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward addressed in a touching article on The Players’ Tribune titled, “Thank You, Utah,” that he would join the Boston Celtics. With a longstanding history of winning and a championship culture, the Celtics continue to assemble a team suited to challenge perrenial championship contenders, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Hayward intends to sign a max contract with the Celtics on a four-year, $128 million deal.
Hayward’s article detailed how difficult the decision came to him, including how he matured as an individual and rebuilt a Utah franchise back to its winning roots, something that fans hadn’t tasted since the legendary John Stockton-Karl Malone era in the 1990’s under well-renowned head coach, Jerry Sloan. Hayward also emphasized his relationship with Celtics coach, Brad Stevens, as a major influence in his decision to join Boston.
Stevens was Hayward’s coach during his time at Butler, and Stevens even cited in the past, on multiple occasions, how he saw something special in Hayward while recruiting him as a high school player. The entire country began to take notice of Stevens and Hayward as they began a magical run during the NCAA tournament in 2010 that almost ended with a championship against the blue-chip, Duke Blue Devils. With a miraculous half court shot that almost went in during the final seconds, we can now only wonder about the impact of the shot that could have made a kid from Indiana a college basketball legend:
Hayward rose to prominence in the NBA after being drafted by the Utah Jazz with the ninth overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. With a draft teeming with talent, Hayward wanted to show that he should be in the same conversation as fellow draftees John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, and Paul George. Hayward thrived in Utah, progressively increasing his scoring average, developing his game each year, and eventually earning his first All-Star honor this past season. Under head coach Quin Snyder, the Jazz defeated the Los Angeles Clippers in round one of the playoffs, only to get swept in the conference semifinals by the eventual champions, the Golden State Warriors.
Regardless of the result, with a competent coaching staff, front office, and players that bought into the system, the Jazz left the 2017 postseason with a sense of assurance that the rebuilding era was over and that they would be back to make more noise in 2017–18. The lone issue standing in their way was Hayward’s impending free agency.
With Hayward’s departure from Utah and the Western Conference continuing to add superstars, the Jazz will need to consider all possible options to reconstruct their roster. Snyder is a very underrated coach and has been able to utilize his roster to the fullest extent even with injuries plaguing his top players. The Jazz coaching staff is well-known for developing players, as evidenced by Hayward’s rise to stardom and with defensive-anchor Rudy Gobert.
Who will take the next big leap in the Jazz rotation? Will it be Australian point guard Dante Exum? With the acquisition of lottery talent Donovan Mitchell in a draft day trade, the Jazz were certainly prepared to develop new, young players if Hayward left. What we certainly know is that it will be a non-stop race to see who earns the final seeds in the Western Conference playoff push next season.
The Miami Heat were another suitor for Hayward. At the very least, Hayward must have been intrigued with Pat Riley’s ability to sway elite talent like LeBron James to South Beach. With the Heat unable to land Hayward and Dion Waiters testing free agency with other teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, the Heat need to assess what direction they will go to next. The Heat still have a very strong chance to make the playoffs, as teams such as Indiana and Atlanta unloaded their star players and initiated the rebuilding phase for their respective franchises. It is important to note that Miami traded its 2018 first round pick with a top-7 protection to the Phoenix Suns as part of the Goran Dragic trade during the 2015 NBA trade deadline.
The rotation in Boston will also be in a very interesting state upon Hayward’s arrival. The Celtics need to find a way to accommodate Hayward’s pricey contract by trading away assets in order to make room in their salary cap. Boston has already began to do this by renouncing Kelly Olynyk’s qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. Boston drafted Duke forward Jayson Tatum and also has a young, gifted defensive talent in Jaylen Brown on its roster. Hayward’s presence will reduce minutes at the forward position for both Brown and Tatum, so Stevens will have to remain creative with positional versatility on his roster.