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Kragthorpe: Gordon Hayward's messy breakup with Jazz will be tough to overcome

Published July 5, 2017 8:32 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The vigil started in late September, when I reminded Gordon Hayward that everything he said or did would be studied over the next nine months for clues about his future with the Jazz.

Hayward just laughed during that media day interview, and he offered nothing all season to suggest what would happen in free agency. Then came the messy breakup Tuesday, when the news of Hayward's joining the Boston Celtics was leaked to ESPN, denied by his agent then verified via his orchestrated posting in The Players' Tribune.

Hayward recognized that his words would be "tough to hear for Jazz fans."



Really?

This guy broke Utahns' hearts twice within six hours. The delayed confirmation just made everybody feel worse in the end. Regardless of who's to blame for the way everything played out Tuesday, Hayward's image will be damaged around here.

July 4, 2017, will be remembered in Utah as misuse of a professional athlete's independence. Now we know how Oklahoma City felt exactly a year ago, when Kevin Durant bolted to Golden State.

Summer? Spoiled. Hayward's choice to sign elsewhere in free agency is a major setback for a franchise that tore itself down and built itself back up during his seven years in Utah.

Wow. What a letdown. The renovated Vivint Smart Home Arena would have looked a lot better with Hayward playing in it more than once a year. Tickets will be a lot tougher to sell, especially at increased prices. And my pre-written "Hayward Stays!" column is being boxed and shipped to a developing country, like those unusable "Super Bowl Champions" T-shirts that are printed every year.

My advice as of last week was for Utahns not to take it personally if Hayward left. I know his move feels like a commentary on our state — and let's be honest, it would have been fun to respond condescendingly to all those people who just assumed that anyone would pick Boston over Salt Lake City.

The only claim I'll make to having seen this coming, beyond a Utahn's built-in paranoia, is I consistently warned everyone not to underestimate Hayward's relationship with Brad Stevens, his coach in their Butler University days. Hayward wrote of their "unfinished business" after losing to Duke in the 2010 NCAA championship game, and it is just the Jazz's luck that Stevens was in this position.

Utahns should feel consoled by having done all they could to encourage Hayward to stay. As much as this state is tied to the Jazz, I have to make a differentiation here: Utah didn't lose Hayward, the Jazz did. For all the good things general manager Dennis Lindsey and coach Quin Snyder have done, they couldn't keep Hayward, and that's a major hit to their credentials.

Hayward's move is a sobering reminder of how difficult it is to build a homegrown team in pro sports in this era. The Jazz have Rudy Gobert and money to spend on a replacement for Hayward, but that market is drying up and there's no getting around the fact that his departure cuts deeply into the franchise's philosophy of developing players and steadily improving. Even with better health, no way will the Jazz match their 51 wins of 2016-17. They'll struggle just to make the playoffs again.

The West is getting better and the East is getting worse. Say what you want about Hayward taking an easier road; the reality is the Jazz's path is arduous now.

The Jazz invested seven years in Hayward's growth and were rewarded only with four wins in playoff games — and he barely played in one of them due to illness. Those were meaningful victories, sending the Jazz past the Los Angeles Clippers in a first-round series. But that breakthrough should have signaled the start of something big instead of serving as the high point for the foreseeable future.

Toronto guard Kyle Lowry re-signed with the Raptors. In his piece in The Players' Tribune, Lowry related what his heart had told him: "And if you start something? Man, you finish it."

Hayward started something in Salt Lake City, but he won't see it through. That's disappointing.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

 

 

 

 

 

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