Life is good for Gordon Hayward today. Even though his pro career began with hearty booing, he became a very rich man when the Jazz took him with the 9th pick in last night’s draft. It would have been a perfectly magical evening if he didn’t have the misfortune of being the final product of more than six years of anticipation for Jazz fans.
After Isiah Thomas gifted Utah an unprotected first-round pick, many thought this pick would be parlayed into a franchise-changing player. Instead the Jazz appear to have approached the draft with a “Best Nine Year-Old Available” philosophy. That’s a little unfair, but poor Gordon Hayward really was just 14 years old when the Jazz fleeced the Knicks in 2004, and will have to prove that looking like a white elementary school student isn’t a fair predictor of basketball talent.
The vitriol from the crowd seemed to be directed toward GM Kevin O’Connor rather than strictly toward Hayward. The angry shouts from the crowd stunned the season ticket holder who announced the pick and led KOC to take the microphone and say “My hope is that you aren’t booing in two years.”
Several reporters grilled O’Connor about his “two years” comment, and he was quick to point out that he was referring to the time when Hayward’s contract will be up for renegotiation and the Jazz will have to make a decision on keeping him, rather the comment being a referendum on O’Connor’s performance as the architect of the talent on the Jazz. Nice gig, right? There aren’t many general managers in the league with the kind of job security that will allow them to make unpopular picks and have full confidence that ownership will allow them bring the player along slowly.
Apparently the Jazz tried to move up in the draft but couldn’t find any takers. By the time the 9th pick rolled around O’Connor felt like the talent was basically in “tier two” and the team was in agreement with their pick.
So now the question is whether Hayward can take his game to the pro level. I really enjoyed watching him play in the NCAA tournament, and as KOC mentioned, “Winning counts for something.” He won a state championship in high school in Indiana and led unlikely Butler to the championship game in the NCAA tournament. The way he awkwardly but unrelentingly came up with big plays and never quit throughout the tournament showed me something special. His game kind of reminds me of a young Manu Ginobili in the sense that his looks belie a competitive spirit and knack for the game. If a balding Argentine can be a dominant player in this league, a lanky tennis player could surprise us too. He’s clearly a very smart player and plays with heart and knows how to win. On those qualities alone he brings a lot to the table for the Jazz.
The other question is what this means for the future of Kyle Korver. The local heartthrob is an unrestricted free agent and it’s almost a sure thing that at least one team will throw enough money his way to lure him away. The Hayward pick could very well be jersey sales insurance if Korver moves on. O’Connor wouldn’t touch questions about Korver (and probably isn’t allowed to discuss until July 1st anyway), but the possibility remains that someone will have to pick up the slack in pink bejeweled jersey sales. If that’s the case, Hayward has a real possibility to become a legend in this state. If he plays his cards correctly and develops into a player who just wins, he could own this place.
It may not have been the most obvious pick, but it’s done and I’m looking forward to the Hayward era.