SALT LAKE CITY — You’d have to go back to that night in 2011, when Jerry Sloan quit. He and Deron Williams had — as Sloan used to say — got “crosswise” one too many times. And that was it. The Hall of Fame coach was finished.
That was the last time such a cold wind blew over the Utah Jazz.
Tuesday word leaked that Gordon Hayward is moving to Boston, home of leprechauns, baked beans and Sam Malone (not to be confused with Karl). Home of 17 NBA championships, too.
That explains almost everything.
No amount of love from a fervent fan base, no team friendships, no respect for the coaching staff can overcome what mattered most to Hayward: a championship now. He said as much in his farewell via The Players’ Tribune, signing off with his goal: “And that’s to win a championship.”
It’s debatable whether that can happen, as long as Golden State remains intact, but moving to the Finals is a probability.
So the Jazz won’t be as good next year. Even their playoff hopes took a hit this week, when Denver, Houston, Oklahoma City and Minnesota bulked up via trades or free agency. The Jazz lost their best player, after seven seasons. He left town like a traveling carnival. That’s what it was, considering the confusion and entertainment that occurred on Tuesday after news leaked out.
It was an awkward exit, despite his tribute to Jazz fans via The Players’ Tribune.
But these things always are.
While Jazz fans are justified in their disappointment, teams sometimes rebuild. The Jazz aren’t in disarray. They’re just missing their All-Star. For moral support, they can look to the Oklahoma City Thunder. A year ago, the small-market Thunder lost Kevin Durant — a former MVP — to Golden State via free agency. Previously they dealt James Harden, this year’s MVP runner-up. Yet, here they are again, looking like a factor by adding Paul George to a team that already has MVP Russell Westbrook.
The Jazz still have Rudy Gobert, who plays at All-Star level most nights. And Ricky Rubio, who will surely make Gobert better. Meanwhile, general manager Dennis Lindsey has shown he’s not waiting for things to come to him.
Moving East certainly has its attractions. That became even more obvious as top free agents (Paul Millsap, Jimmy Butler, George) raced to join Western Conference teams. Hayward’s chances of being an All-Star and winning conference titles will be far better in the weaker conference.
It would be unfair to say he’s running from competition, but he is running for a championship. He knew joining Boston would be a shortcut. Such a franchise can add pieces faster.
The Jazz aren’t getting out of the West, regardless.
Still, it’s fair to say Hayward owed the Jazz a quick and clear answer. Even as ESPN was reporting he was leaving, agent Mark Bartelstein was saying Hayward hadn’t decided. Jazz president Steve Starks was tweeting “We trust Gordon and his agent that no decision has been made. Good communication all day and a great relationship.”
It was a better relationship on Monday than on Tuesday.
Maybe the holdup was while Hayward and his agent crafted their farewell piece.
The case for Hayward playing for his former college coach, Brad Stevens, is legitimate. But he has played more years (three) for Quin Snyder than he did Stevens (two).
When things got serious, in the last few days, Hayward faced a true dilemma. Boston had the best chance of going to the NBA Finals and even winning multiple rings. Miami had its weather and glamour. Utah had the most money, security and the least disruption.
And don’t overlook Aggie Ice Cream.
Utah also offered Gobert — which is no small enticement. Aside from his ability to defend and disrupt, he works Twitter like a boss.
You have to love a guy willing to get in tweeting wars with other players, in order to keep the team together.
That kind of fierceness and loyalty isn’t everywhere.
With the addition of Rubio and the re-signing of Joe Ingles, the Jazz will be respectable next season. But even when the Jazz had six players who at some point in their careers became All-Stars (Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Mehmet Okur) — they never finished higher than fourth in the conference. In 2008-09 they finished eighth.
It could be that way again, as the conference continues to strengthen.
But that’s another story for another day. As it was, the Jazz had enough gloomy news.