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Ben Anderson: Gordon Hayward compliments, critiques Jazz on his way out the door



Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — On Monday, Gordon Hayward appeared on the Woj Podcast, hosted by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Outside of his article in the Players Tribune, this is the first time Hayward has discussed the Jazz and his free agency at length since leaving Utah.

First, Hayward discussed the process of narrowing down teams in the NBA with his agent Mark Bartelstein. Hayward examined how each city would fit what he needed financially, how the city fit his family and how he fit on the roster.

From there, Hayward said he narrowed it down to “three of four” teams, most notably the Jazz, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.

Hayward also discussed the difficulty of assisting the Jazz in building their roster, without being able to promise that he would ever play alongside them in a Jazz uniform. Hayward was in Miami when he saw the Jazz had traded for Ricky Rubio, someone Hayward said was “high on (his) list” of point guards he’d like to play with. He called the move a step in the right direction for the Jazz, saying he believes Rubio will help the Jazz next season.

Hayward has drawn strong criticism from Jazz fans for his close contact with the Jazz during his free agency, right up until his departure from the franchise. Hayward trained with assistant coach Johnnie Bryant and strength coach Isaiah Wright over the summer, despite being a free agent.

Hayward told Wojnarowski that, in his exit meeting with Quin Synder and Dennis Lindsey at the end of the 2016-17 season, the team agreed to treat Hayward like he was a member of the team until he signed elsewhere. Hayward said he understood it was a “tricky” situation, and doesn’t believe the Jazz thought he was “leading them on.”

The first team Hayward reportedly eliminated from contention for his services was Miami. Hayward was wowed by the Heat’s presentation, including his meeting with NBA Hall of Famer Pat Riley. Wojnarowski asked if Hayward’s unfamiliarity with coach Erik Spoelstra was a reason he opted against Miami, but Hayward attributed his decision to a multitude of unspecified reasons.

One of the main talking points regarding Boston's draw for Hayward was his relationship with Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Hayward said that element of his decision, at least before meeting with the Celtics, was overblown.

“It wasn’t like we were constantly texting each other or calling each other,” Hayward said, noting the time-consuming nature of being a head coach.

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After a phone call on July 1 with Stevens, Hayward said it became apparent their relationship was still strong and would stay that way regardless of whether he signed with Boston.

If Jazz fans are looking for one gripe with Hayward’s appearance on the podcast, it may come in his comparison of the history of the Celtics to that of the Jazz. Hayward noted how invested the fans and organization are to winning in Boston. He said the Jazz have a “tradition of success with John (Stockton) and with Karl (Malone), and Jerry Sloan” but that it wasn’t near the level of the Celtics, and he mentioned the team’s 17 championships.

The Celtics have won just one championship in Hayward’s lifetime, and their two finals appearances match that of the Jazz. Twelve of those championships came before the New Orleans Jazz existed as a franchise. Still, Hayward isn’t wrong when reflecting on the high level of success the Celtics have achieved compared to the Jazz.

On his trip to Boston, Hayward spent time with Celtics center Al Horford, point guard Isaiah Thomas and his wife, and broke down film of where he’d fit on the roster with Stevens. When flying back to San Diego, before meeting with the Jazz, Hayward said he was already torn.

When meeting with the Jazz, Hayward was unsure who all would show up to his recruitment meeting. He said the initial feeling of the meeting with the Jazz was awkward, having gone from once competing alongside the coaching staff and ownership to sitting across the table on a recruiting pitch. Hayward initially met with ownership and management before being joined by a collection of Jazz players, including Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles.

Perhaps the most difficult part of Hayward’s departure from the Jazz was his and his agent’s mishandling of the announcement to leave. Chris Haynes of ESPN reported early on the morning of July 4 that Hayward had decided on Boston, while Hayward’s camp waited six hours before confirming the report in the Players Tribune.

Hayward said he was getting texts from players and coaches with Boston, Miami and Utah throughout the process, and opted to discuss his intentions only with his agent. Hayward told Wojnarowski he was leaning toward signing with the Celtics when he went to sleep July 3 but wasn’t sure where to sign until the next day. Hayward claims he hadn’t made up his mind when Haynes reported he would sign with Boston.

One of the clear draws to Boston was the lesser competition in the Eastern Conference versus what he would face in the West.

"You don't want to run from competition at all," Hayward said. "That's not how I am. But there is a sense that it's probably a smarter thing as far as you're not going to have to battle it out with all these teams just to make it to the second round.”

Much has been made of Hayward’s manner of informing the Jazz of his decision to sign with the Celtics, specifically the lack of a phone call to team owner Gail Miller. Hayward called Snyder, something he dreaded because he is “terrible at doing that type of stuff.” Snyder told Hayward before the call that he was in Hayward’s corner, regardless of his decision.

Hayward was complimentary of Snyder as a coach, saying he helped Hayward during a dark time in his life, when the Jazz were coming off a 25-win season. Hayward also downplayed the Jazz decision not to offer him a max contract as a restricted free agent in 2014, and the impact it had on him signing with Boston. The Jazz asked Hayward to find a max contract with another team, in Hayward’s case Charlotte, before matching that deal. Hayward said he felt spurned immediately following the contract agreement, but he understood the perspective of the Jazz.

Ultimately, Hayward said his decision came down to a “different feeling” that he had in Boston, that outweighed the opportunity to remain with the Jazz, though he and his family would have been happy to remain in Utah.

In the podcast, Hayward reminded fans he’s still the down-to-earth and sometimes charmingly naive kid that grew into a superstar in Jazz uniform, which may help ease the feeling of abandonment left in his absence. However, it won’t alleviate the sour taste left in the mishandling of his departure.

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Ben Anderson

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