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Kragthorpe: Gordon Hayward begins life as a Celtic, and tries to clean up mess he created in Utah

Published July 14, 2017 7:54 pm

Utah Jazz • Former Jazz all-star sounds sincere in praising Jazz in his first public comments since signing with Boston.
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Gordon Hayward finally became a Celtic, only not in Boston.

A week after arriving in Boston and being pictured shopping for a discount suit and a designer haircut, then being sent home while the team's other transactions were being completed, Hayward signed his four-year, $128 million contract Friday. He was introduced to the media via a conference call, about five hours after Celtics executive Danny Ainge announced the free agent acquisition.

That's the last chapter in a saga that will be remembered in Utah as awkward, disappointing and taking way too long. But it's over, officially.

The version of Hayward speaking Friday came across a lot more favorably than the guy writing last week, I'll say that. And in the 10 days between his decision to leave Utah and his semi-formal introduction as a Celtic, the Jazz staged a mild recovery from the loss of Hayward with the free agent signings of Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Uhdo. That helps.

Some fraction — maybe even a high percentage — of the Jazz fan base never will forgive Hayward for the way he left the franchise after seven years. Undoubtedly, he could have handled it better. He could have taken fewer than 92 hours of the Jazz's valuable time in free agency before going elsewhere, he could have thanked his most recent teammates by name in his 2,100-word essay in The Players' Tribune and he could have called Jazz owner Gail Miller personally, instead of merely returning her text message.

Yet Hayward did a good job of thanking the Jazz during his remarks Friday, even before responding to any Utah-themed questions. His words over the phone sure sounded a lot more sincere than they did in writing. Will his explanations ever be fully satisfying around here? Of course not. But he made a decent impression, hardly sounding like he was reading from any script.

"I want to make it clear how much I appreciate everybody in the Utah organization. … I can't be more thankful for what they've given me the last seven years," he said, citing members of the Miller family by name, although he still didn't single out any teammates.

That part remains weird to me. Rudy Gobert's description of his July 3 meeting with Hayward in San Diego as "a little awkward" is the lasting label of Hayward's last in-person meeting with Jazz personnel. Even so, Hayward spoke of "some of the best moments of my life" in Utah, and said he came out of the meeting with a feeling of, "How could I ever leave the Jazz?"

And then he did so, about 24 hours later.

The reaction in Utah? Let's just say some of it should have been less harsh. "I definitely understand where a lot of people are coming from," Hayward said. "It's disappointing to see some of the threats and some of the violent responses, especially toward my family, but I definitely understand the disappointment, for sure."

In a Boston Globe story, Hayward's father wondered, "Is he supposed to stay in Utah just so he doesn't disappoint others?"

Gordon Scott Hayward also said he appreciated the various elements of the "Stayward" campaign and labeled the jersey-burning aftermath "hurtful."

Hayward will sport the No. 20 in Celtic green recently made famous by Ray Allen, before Allen went to Miami in search of an NBA championship. Allen is among the NBA players who inspired Hayward's choice of numbers.

Hayward said "just something different about Boston, different about being a Celtic … ultimately won me over."

He liked what he heard from Ainge and Brad Stevens, his coach at Butler University, about how he'll be utilized in Boston's offense, saying Stevens is "a genius with that stuff."

Hayward is sticking to his story that his final decision was made only "five minutes" before his announcement was published on The Players' Tribune website. A ghostwriter prepared multiple versions, based on nightly conversations after Hayward's meetings with Miami, Boston and the Jazz. He said the reports more than 5 hours earlier that he had chosen Boston left him "kind of bummed, how it happened."

Same story in Utah, only more so. Hayward gets that, if it's any consolation.


Twitter @tribkurt —

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