Utah Jazz fans have been looking forward to Wednesday for a long time. On July 4th of last year, the collective of Jazz fans had their hearts broken not once but twice as Gordon Hayward struggled to make his mind and hit publish on an online post explaining his rationale for leaving. Rudy Gobert instagram’d his response. Once the NBA schedule was released Utah Jazz fans circled March 28th: The Return of Gordon Hayward. This was to be the revenge game, then on the first night of the regular season that revenge game had ice water thrown on it as Gordon Hayward went down with a gruesome season ending injury. The revenge game would have to wait ... or would it?
Those who were on the Utah Jazz roster last year or helped in the recruiting process still have this game circled. Without Gordon Hayward active, this is a chance to throw down a whoopin’ on the messenger then have him return to his home country and bare the warning: Utah is better off without you.
At the beginning of the season, we couldn’t in our wildest dreams have thought Utah would have as complete a team as they currently possess. This game was looked at like a David vs Goliath story of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford facing off against an under-appreciated defensive lineup of Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles, and Rudy Gobert. But the calculus of this matchup has changed considerably since the schedule release.
Donovan Mitchell has become a bonafide super star. Replacing Gordon Hayward’s production and doing so without an offensive equal in the lineup like Hayward possessed in George Hill. Joe Ingles has taken another step forward in his game against the odds. Derrick Favors is back to being healthy Favors. Rubio has a midrange game now. Rudy Gobert is somehow even better than last year defensively. This isn’t a David vs Goliath story. This is now Joshua surrounding the walls of Jericho and Donovan’s the horns.
Adding a fun wrinkle to this budding rivalry is the addition of Jae Crowder. Jae Crowder was jettisoned by the Celtics to make room for Gordon Hayward. The Jazz had initially tried to get Crowder as some sort of sign and trade including Hayward, but Danny Ainge priced the Jazz out of the arrangement. Utah ended up getting Crowder in exchange for Rodney Hood. Jae Crowder even commented in January of last year how he felt disrespected by Celtics fans when they cheered for Gordon Hayward in a Jazz-Celtics matchup in Boston. Crowder’s fire and ire from being the odd man out with Hayward’s addition in Boston combined with Utah’s contempt for being bested by the Celtics in that free agency period adds some very combustible gas to the fire.
This Wednesday, will Jazz fans get the chance to shower Gordon Hayward with boos and jeers when he’s introduced or steps onto the court? No. Will Gordon Hayward travel with the team to Utah? That remains to be seen. Will that “Call Gail” poster have the same effect Wednesday as it would next season? Actually, bring it. It’s just as funny. Will a win feel as sweet as it would have if the Celtics were at full strength? It won’t.
But this isn’t the main course of Utah’s revenge. This is the appetizer. The first course of the revenge tour. Then, next season, the Utah Jazz will get to host a proper homecoming for Gordon Hayward. Like Gordon Hayward, they will have some unfinished business with Brad Steven’s Boston Celtics.