Gordon Hayward is leaving the Utah Jazz.
The team that saw him grow from boy to man, from rookie to All-Star. The team that he carried from the depths of NBA irrelevancy to the second round of the playoffs. The team that loved him for who he was on and off the court. Gordon Hayward is leaving the Utah Jazz, and it hurts.
Hayward leaves a giant hole in the Utah Jazz franchise. He was their leading scorer, their lone All-Star, and co-fan-favorite along with All-NBA Center Rudy Gobert. He was the focal point of an efficient offense, an irreplaceable cog in the scheme of head coach Quin Snyder. He was a humble, hard-working player that Jazz fans instantly fell in love with. But he left.
He had a chance to cement himself as a legend Utah Jazz franchise history, but he chose not to.
He had a chance to armor up and go to battle with the majority of NBA talent in the Western Conference, but he chose not to.
He had a chance to build a legacy and make a run at a championship in a place that has never seen that glory, but he chose not to.
So where do we go from here? How do the Utah Jazz rebound from losing their franchise player? Who steps up in the absence of Hayward? Can Dennis Lindsey rummage through the remaining free-agents and land any impact players? These are some curious questions that will only be answered in time. But for now, let’s speculate.
Rudy Gobert ascends as the true king of Swat Lake City
Rudy Gobert is a competitor. More than anything he wants to win, and bring a championship to Utah. The difference between him and Gordon Hayward? Loyalty. Gobert strikes as one that would defend his land until the death. Not the type that joins another kingdom with hopes of an easier route to victory. Gobert is now the one and only king of the Utah Jazz; a role that some say he has had for some time now. In a world where NBA players put individual success and accolades ahead of franchise loyalty, Gobert seems to be a different breed. Gobert will not shy away from this challenge. With Hayward fleeing the Western Conference, the Stifle Tower will stand strong in all his mighty glory. This is his team now.
Gobert did a lot of shining in the 2016-17 season. He was a finalist for several NBA awards including Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player. He landed on the NBA’s First Team All-Defense, and was a mighty force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court all season long. But with Hayward gone, Gobert will need to reach new heights.
Catching lobs from the newly-acquired Ricky Rubio should add to his offensive flavor, but Gobert’s offensive post-game will be the more intriguing topic approaching next season. For the Jazz to stand a chance in the fight of the Western Conference, Rudy Gobert will need to be better than he was last year, which was already very good.
As the bonafide leader of the Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert will claim his spot as king.
Building around a young core
The Jazz have youth. Rudy Gobert, their captain and leader, is only 25 years old. Ricky Rubio is 26. They have Dante Exum who has shown promising signs of being an explosive impact player, who is only 21. They drafted Donovan Mitchell, who dazzled in his opening Summer League game, and may find himself with heavy usage in the rotation come November. The Jazz have solid, young players that they can build around.
Utah has seen great success in the past, as far as developing players goes. They drafted Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert, who have both become great NBA players through coaching, training and skill development.
The development of these young players will be the true deciding factor in the fate of the Hayward-less Utah Jazz. If these players can’t step up into larger roles and improve, the Jazz may find themselves back where they were in 2013.
Making the right moves
After getting burned by a late Hayward decision, the Jazz face a dilemma regarding the availability of free-agents. Most of the top-tier free-agents have already signed in their new locations, not leaving many options for the Jazz. They may be forced into seeking trades or shedding salary to prepare for next year’s free-agency period.
The Jazz front office have done an exceptional job at bringing in and retaining talent where it is needed. They did all they could do to retain Gordon Hayward, but in the end it came down to personal preference. The Jazz are most likely not finished making moves this off-season, but may take some time to reconsider their options before dishing out any offers or trade pitches.
Creating a new legacy
One of the hardest things about Gordon Hayward’s departure, is the legacy he left in the dust. Jazz fans loved Hayward from the first time he stepped on the court as a mop-topped rookie. They loved him to the time he left the court surrounded by “GOR-DON HAY-WARD” chants after getting swept by the Golden State Warriors. The Utah Jazz franchise will be in search of new legacies to build. They will search for new players to whom they can build such legacies.
Perhaps Donovan Mitchell becomes that guy. Maybe he kills it in his rookie year, averaging 16 points per game and dazzles the crowd with high-flying dunks and step-back threes.
Maybe Ricky Rubio falls in love with Utah. Behind his deep and mysterious eyes, his behind-the-back passes or ruthless nutmegs are sufficient for Jazz fans to fall in love with him as well.
Dante Exum could explode onto the scene in 2018. Finally given the opportunity, he flourishes as a dynamic guard in the NBA and becomes one of the brightest young stars in the league.
After one of the more discouraging days in franchise history, there can be some optimism. Legacies are built through adversity and overcoming. Gordon Hayward doesn’t want anything to do with the legacy of the Utah Jazz, so let him be.
Meanwhile, Dennis Lindsey, Steve Starks, and Quin Snyder will do their part in seeing that the Utah Jazz legacy lives on. Rudy Gobert isn’t sobbing, just check out his Instagram story. The Jazz will rebound from the fleeing of Gordon Hayward, and you will too. It may take some time, but the Utah Jazz will be okay without him. Here’s to better days, ones in the life after Gordon Hayward.