Gordon Hayward ruined a Disneyland visit, a Hawaiian vacation, a night’s sleep in Hong Kong and a bunch of backyard barbecues in Utah.
On this year’s Fourth of July menu in Jazzland: The conversation about whether the franchise paid too much to keep Derrick Favors and Dante Exum. That subject is a lot more enjoyable than the agonizing about Hayward’s free agency last summer and his eventual choice of Boston, spoiling a holiday that Jazz fans likely never will forget.
In some mixture of self- punishment and therapy, dozens of them played along this week when I asked fans to recall the Hayward vigil of July 4, 2017. The questions: 1) Where were you? 2) Did you allow yourself to be hopeful when his agent denied the initial report in the early afternoon? 3) When did you get over it?
The answers: 1) All around the world, but mostly attending barbecues. 2) Anywhere from “completely” to “not at all.” 3) Any time from fireworks displays that night to never. And, much like “Jesus” is the default answer to most questions in Sunday School, “Donovan Mitchell” works for nearly every Jazz topic.
What’s clear is how much the outlook for the Jazz has changed since the loss of Hayward seemingly stopped the Jazz’s momentum generated by a 2017 playoff series victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. They’ve regrouped impressively. So, to varying degrees, have Jazz fans.
Worries persist about the Jazz’s ability to stay ahead of the Lakers with LeBron James now in Los Angeles (a genuine concern) and if the NBA competitively ceased to exist this week when DeMarcus Cousins joined Golden State (that’s silly). Regardless, the Jazz’s vibe is much more favorable than last summer. That’s why the Hayward episode is worth reliving, just to provide the contrast of how fans are feeling about the franchise now, compared with then.
That was a tough day around here, made worse by the five-hour gap between the news of Hayward’s pick of Boston and his official confirmation in the early evening via the posting of his “Thank you, Utah” address in The Players’ Tribune.
Yeah, you’re welcome, G.
In between came agent Mark Bartelstein’s insistence that, contrary to reports, Hayward had not decided anything.
“My hopes were very high when his agent said no decision had been made,” said Spencer Perkins, of Salt Lake City, who concluded, “I’m not over it.”
The Jazz’s future is promising. Yet, the thought remains that for two weeks last summer, the Jazz had Hayward, Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Spenser Bowen, a Utahn attending Ohio State’s dental school, describes himself as “still bitter, because we need a player exactly like [Hayward] to take the next step.”
That part of this week’s discussion is the most fascinating to me. Jazz fans are all over the map when it comes to processing what happened last July, and how it affected them.
“I got over it when [Mitchell] windmill-dunked in summer league warmups,” said David Jones, of Sandy, who added cryptically, “Son not over it.”
That’s because Jones’ son, Quincy, now 12, so admired Hayward. Hayward hurt people, because they felt attached to him and the Jazz had invested so much in building a team around him. But the franchise has moved on, thanks mainly to Mitchell.
By far the most common response to the getting-over-it question was Mitchell’s 41-point game against New Orleans on Dec. 1. His dunk against the Lakers on Oct. 28 also was a popular choice. Others picked the Jazz’s 11-game winning streak in January and February and the Jazz’s defeat of Oklahoma City in a playoff series, with Mitchell scoring 38 points in the close-out Game 6.
Some fraction of fans got their ‘revenge’ in the first five minutes of the Celtics’ season opener, when Hayward badly injured his leg, sidelining him for the year.
Hayward’s move to Boston felt like a rejection of an entire state, requiring a lot of healing by Mitchell and his teammates. A year later, he seems more than capable of providing it.