The Utah Jazz haven’t had a villain quite like Gordon Hayward for a while, maybe if ever. While Utah has had its share of Benedict Arnold type moves, they usually were players who the team had already collectively moved on from or were out of their primes. Karl Malone went to the Lakers, but Stockton had retired and it seemed weird to have one without the other. Carlos Boozer left for Chicago, but he was transparent—almost painfully so—that he wanted to leave Utah after his contract was over.
The last possible “villain” who was a star player for Utah was Deron Williams who never left on his own accord and was traded. Deron never quite fell into the trope of that villainy. He certainly was booed when he returned, but looking back on it, he was the scapegoat that Jazz fans put the retirement of Jerry Sloan on. He was complimentary of Utah, still lived in Utah in the offseason, and ultimately made peace with Jerry Sloan.
Derek Fisher was someone who Jazz fans still swear up and down betrayed them. He asked to get out of his contract during their successful years so he could get be closer to New York to get treatment for his daughter’s cancer. Larry Miller released him from his contract on good faith only for Derek Fisher to go further West—not East—to Los Angeles for a reunion with the Lakers. It may have been for the flights, or Fisher may have taken advantage of Larry’s big heart; whatever it was, Jazz fans still hold a grudge to this day.
But the possible villainy that Gordon Hayward poses is a completely different animal. Never has a Jazzman left the Utah Jazz on his own accord in his prime. Gordon Hayward was a small market’s nightmare turned reality: star of your team leaving for a bigger market. Gordon Hayward’s whole leaving situation has the potential to put him on equal footing in the Mark Jackson “Utah Jazz Traitor” Hall of Fame.
Let’s go through all of it.
Influencing personnel decisions weeks before free agency
Entering the 2017 NBA Free Agency period, the Utah Jazz had some big decisions to make. They had a vacancy at point guard that would need to be filled due to George Hill turning down an extension in March. The Utah Jazz had a small window to make that type of deal happen because once the 2016-2017 season officially ended, they would lose the excess cap room to bring on a guy.
With Hayward still making recommendations on who he’d like to play with and having a preference for a veteran rather than allow the Jazz to turn the keys to the car over to Dante Exum, the Utah Jazz targeted veteran Ricky Rubio who Hayward had great respect for and always wanted to have as a teammate. The Utah Jazz sacrificed their 2018 NBA Draft pick from Oklahoma City—that pick would turn into Josh Okogie—in order to take Rubio’s contract into their cap space right before the season ended.
The deal would work out for Utah as Rubio and Mitchell would bond, but for a guy who seemed to have his foot out the door already looking back, it seems strange that he was influencing the Utah front office.
Making Utah come to him
While Gordon Hayward visited the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat in their respective cities, he made the Utah Jazz go to him at his home in California. Most were not putting the pieces together at the time, but looking back at it now, it seems callous as the team he required to put the most legwork in—the Utah Jazz even had Ricky Rubio flown from Spain to California for the pitch—only to decide to go to Boston.
He decided until he didn’t then he did—trust him
Then their was the whole deciding part. Whether it was pride, social awkwardness, or wanting to control the message, Gordon Hayward tried to walk back the ESPN story that he had decided to go to Boston. His agent said he was still deciding despite multiple sources saying he had already made his decision. Those reporters still back up their sources and story that his decision was already made. This jerked around Jazz fans for most of their 4th of July—sorry, but jerk move to bust up any person’s BBQ—and pushed Utah’s Plan B free agent meetings back precious hours. Those lost hours would force Utah to be left without a date for the Big Dance. Utah would end up sitting out of free agency and searching the bargain bin for plus defenders, aka Moneyballing it. But that wasn’t their first plan.
I’d like to thank all people who made this possible: Jeremy Evans
Then there was the Player’s Tribune article that only mentioned Jeremy Evans who hadn’t been on the roster in two years while omitting all current players. He avoided confrontation and didn’t actively call Utah to alert them of his decision, he only texted back and just once. He never called Gail Miller—real jerk move—and said that he and Stevens had unfinished business while the Utah Jazz have had unfinished business with their hopes of just a single championship EVER in their franchise history.
That, in and of itself, would have made Hayward a villain but he kept going.
But I paid for myself ...
He defended his decision to make the Utah Jazz fly out to visit him rather than vice versa by saying he flew out to visit teams on his own dime, like plane ticket to a millionaire is anything but chump change.
Taking a shot at Utah’s now infamous 3 hour practices
Sitting in a full Celtics regalia, sporting a “Daddy’s Always Happy” black dad-style hat, Gordon Hayward dished out all the nitty gritty of his past year with the Boston Celtics on Barstool Sport’s podcast “Pardon My Take.” The pain of not being able to play, the transition to Boston, and his awkward “Daddy’s Always Happy” Instagram video that has now spawned a cringe-worthy meme. It would seem that Gordon Hayward has moved past his time in Utah until he snaps back for a few fleeting moments.
Seeing as Gordon Hayward didn’t play one full regular season game with Boston last year, it almost feels like his preseason media schedule is like that of a newly signed free agent. He’s getting asked the same questions as last preseason save the questions about his injury; otherwise, Gordon Hayward is living his own Groundhog’s Day. For that reason the question came up on the show, why exactly did he choose to follow his college coach to Boston. He talked about Brad Stevens’ basketball mind, his commitment to his players, then he seemed to make a dig at Utah.
“And just [Stevens’] personality, he’s not going to scream at you or yell at you,” seemingly alluding to Quin Snyder’s tough persona. Gordon Hayward would go on making a reference to 3 hour practices which was a hot button topic with Trey Lyles a few months ago. “[Stevens] seemed pretty logical about how he did things as far as practices were concerned. We’re not going to run you into the ground for 3 hours* because you have to play this weekend and [Stevens] want[s] you to be good in March, too.”
Jazz will probably be LeBron’s ‘Little B’
That wasn’t even the most pointed remark about Utah. When PFT Commenter and Bigstool Big Cat asked Hayward to comment on an idiotic video of fans burning his jersey—kids, don’t burn your jerseys—Hayward fell right into the trap and clickbait these two were looking for.
In the video, the stupid burninator who was filming it said that Hayward would be LeBron’s little B in the East while he roasted his definitely screen printed—possibly Chinese knock off—jersey in his fire pit. While watching the footage Gordon Hayward quipped that people burned jerseys at his house in Utah—ya know, the one he wasn’t at all offseason and sold only a month later—and then said, “The Jazz will probably be LeBron’s ‘Little B’. Irony.” This interview could not be more on brand for Gordon Hayward since making his decision then changing his mind then making his decision again to leave Utah last 4th of July.
The looming homecoming
Let’s not kid ourselves, the Utah Jazz would have been much better with Gordon Hayward than without Gordon Hayward, but Hayward’s PR ineptitude has made him a despicable and perfect villain for the Utah Jazz. Here’s a guy who the Jazz kowtowed to for years, building him up as the wonder boy of the organization, the star player. The Utah Jazz was his team, but the fit wasn’t a good fit, it was more like a Smedium. It worked, but it wasn’t natural. Gobert’s intensity seemed to be frozen by Hayward’s reticence for a conflict. Now with Donovan Mitchell, the Utah Jazz have that perfect fit and chemistry with their stars and team.
With Gordon Hayward with the Celtics, there’s a natural villain for Jazz fans to root against. Every good team needs a rivalry. What better rivalry can their be than one of the best team’s in the East who have your Benedict Arnold? Gordon Hayward is not the villain Utah needed, but the one this current team deserves. Hayward’s Celtics team is a contemporary on the defensive end, they have an excellent coach, the battles between both teams will always be fierce. This villainy is perfect.
The Boston Celtics are draped with talent and star power. While Utah has great young talent, it’s strongest piece is its culture and next man up attitude. You won’t find a team that is more fun to follow on Twitter or root for, while the Boston Celtics are the result of being able to turn on override opposing GMs in trades in NBA2K. They’re both nightmares when it comes to execution on the offensive end, but the Celtics will overpower you with sheer talent on the offensive side of the ball. The Jazz will make your team’s life hell on the defensive end.
Our only hope is that we’ll finally get to see this rivalry played out—FINALLY—in November. When the Boston Celtics arrive into town on the second night of a back to back, our hope is that the Celtics don’t find a way to give Gordon Hayward a “scheduled rest day.” We hope that he doesn’t slink away like he’s just received a wet willie from Delonte West. We hope he steps into that arena of 18,00+ fans turned enemies and accepts his fate and rightful purpose: the rightful antagonist of the Utah Jazz.