A Final Appeal: Open Letter to All-Star Free Agent Gordon Hayward

June 30th, 2017 | by Dan Clayton

Barry Gossage via utahjazz.com

Gordon,

On behalf of Salt City Hoops, as well as a broader community of Jazz writers, followers and fans, let’s start here: Thanks.

Thank you for lifting the franchise back to relevance. Seven years ago, you joined a team approaching a crossroads, and when the Jazz brain trust opted for the path of a laborious rebuild, you embraced opportunities to push on the limits of your comfort zone and force the team to get better with you.

Thank you for setting a tone of hard work and improvement on the team. Not every young Jazz man over the past seven years has followed your same development arc, but certainly nobody on this team can get away with a half-assed effort when they see how hard their best player toils and how dedicated you are to getting better.

Thanks for being generous with your time and insights to reporters who bring fans closer to the game, including this one. Thanks for putting up with my bothering you for pregame audio even when you were a big enough star that you could have said, “Not tonight.” Thanks for letting me pick your basketball brain from 2010 to 2014 and share your analysis with listeners on the Jazz’s Spanish radio broadcast. Thanks for being1 genuinely excited when I told you that my then-fiancee and I got engaged the same night as you and Robyn, and for treating me like an old colleague when I had a chance to catch up later after games in Brooklyn and New York.

Thanks for letting us all follow along on your journey, watch you grow up as a person and an athlete. For proving people silly who dared to say, This is probably about as good as he’s going to get, right? For showing people that #improveeveryday was real to you.

Thanks for more than 8,000 points, 2,000 rebounds, 1,700 assists. For chasedown blocks. For throwing down on Giannis Antetokounmpo. For drilling a game-winner in LeBron’s grill. For 248 wins, plus the first Jazz playoff series victory since you were a teenager. For getting overwhelmed by emotion2 as you conquered milestones, pulled your team to April victories, and received the love of 20,000 celebrating with you.

For all of that, and regardless of what happens starting at 10:00 p.m. Mountain Time tonight3, thank you. No matter what you choose next, you’ve given everybody connected with the Utah Jazz a tremendous, memorable, impressive, fun and important seven years.

But let’s get to the real talk now: you should stay.

You shouldn’t stay for others, even though it’s obvious that you feel the love of Jazz fans and the respect from those who have covered your ascent to NBA All-Star and bona fide franchise face. Stay for you. Stay because the story is better this way, the outcomes are better this way, and because you hunger for a type of greatness that is best demonstrated by finishing the transformation that you have led.

You’ve brought a once-great franchise back to the precipice of contention. Why not finish that? If the Hayward-led Jazz were to make a trip back to the Conference Finals or Finals — let alone hoist a Larry O’Brien trophy — your story would be the stuff of legends. And you wouldn’t just go down as a Jazz legend — that’s the kind of stuff that creates the legacy of an NBA great.

Sure, history wouldn’t begrudge you if you left. But it wouldn’t reward you the same way, either. You could easily go play elsewhere and solidify your status as one of the best and most complete wings of this generation. But stay and finish this journey along the trajectory that you helped create, and you’ll carve out a pretty special spot in basketball history. You already know that you can compete for titles in Utah, and as you inch closer to that ultimate goal, you can capture a legacy as the foremost face of (potentially) one of this decade’s elite teams. That’s not just the stuff of statues; we’re talking about finding your way to Springfield, Massachusetts.

There are other reasons to stay, of course. You clearly believe in Quin Snyder and his approach and commitment to a values-based culture.  You know this is already an elite team; you captained this group to the fifth-best net rating in the league despite a hobbled Derrick Favors and 33 games without your starting point guard. You know that the team’s 51-31 record probably undersells how good the club is now given all the wins Utah lost due to the injury bug, and it’s clear that this group still has potentially unrealized improvements from some young players.

You understand that there are some things about Salt Lake City that make it advantageous, such as a relaxed lifestyle and low cost of living that allows you to keep more of that money you’re about to make. Speaking of money, you know the Jazz will give you whatever kind of contract you desire, whether that’s a full five-year max with a guaranteed $172 million, or something that gives you flexibility sooner.

And then there’s Rudy.

Wherever you play in 2018-19 and beyond, you’ll be next to other stars. But there’s nobody quite like Rudy Gobert. The elite roll man makes your job easier, and his length, mobility and smarts already define the way Utah is able to pressure shooters and dictate on the defensive end. He’s also tenaciously competitive, and has a mindset and commitment that, like your own, will push the team to compete harder.

And he believes just as much in you.

“I know he likes to win,” your one-of-a-kind teammate said of you when speaking to Hoopshype’s Alex Kennedy. “I know he likes it here in Utah, and his wife and kids like it here too… I’m going to remind him that I really want to win a championship and I think we can do it. If he stays, I think we’ll have chances [to win titles].”

You and Rudy can absolutely form the foundation of a special era of Jazz basketball, and the Jazz will be able to build around that with your consultation on players and skill sets that will move the franchise forward. You’ll be a trusted partner to Snyder and Dennis Lindsey as they look for ways to disrupt the power structure — and we’re talking about a team that was already fifth best by Net Rating in 2016-17.

The present is bright, but the future is brighter with you, Gobert and Snyder crafting the next iteration of Utah Jazz hoops.

So let’s add one more “thank you” to the list above: thanks for being the thoughtful, erudite type of player who’s smart enough to grasp all of that and recognize the special opportunity you have. Other teams can offer you pieces of what the Jazz will put in front of you later tonight. But nobody can offer all of it. The statues. The legacy. The chance to be the undisputed main guy on a top-five (already!) outfit. The unique benefits of playing next to a singular star teammate. The money. The love.

You still may opt for a change. If you do, it won’t diminish what you’ve done for your teammates, the program and the community over the past seven years. It won’t erase all the memorable moments, but it will rob us all — yourself included — of the opportunity to see where this could have gone.

Finish what you started. Not for me, not for fans, not for Quin. Finish what you started because that’s what you want, and because greatness awaits when you do.

 

 

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

3 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Well-stated.

    It’s a rare opportunity in today’s NBA (or in any era of the NBA) for a player to spend his entire career with one franchise and go down in history as one of the greatest players of that franchise. Gordon has a legitimate chance to do that with the Utah Jazz, if he stays.

    A similar opportunity appeared to be outweighed by other factors, with regards to Kevin Durant and the OKC Thunder, in Durant’s decision to leave OKC in free agency last season. Hopefully that won’t be the case with Gordon Hayward, and he will make Utah his home for a very long time over a very long, successful career.

    • Spencer says:

      You know, the funny thing about Durant is that while watching them clinch the final game I couldn’t help but think two things:

      1) Boy this is anticlimactic
      2) I think Durant could have beat Golden State with OKC.

      THAT Would have been so much better for the league and so much more compelling for everyone!

  2. Run_Pappy says:

    Excellent thoughts. Thank you for putting them into eloquent words!

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