SALT LAKE CITY — In the week leading up to making important visits with the three NBA franchises he was interested in possibly playing for, Gordon Hayward spent time writing down things on his mind about his impending life-changing decision.
Hayward, working with a ghostwriter, crafted three different versions of a blog for The Players’ Tribune, a website that produces articles written by athletes. The piece was supposed to break the news about where he’d spend the next part of his career, which — spoiler alert — we all know now will be Boston.
Hayward wrote a version in case he decided to remain with Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, Quin Snyder and his team of seven years, the Utah Jazz.
Hayward wrote a version in case he opted to team up with Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat.
Hayward also wrote a version in case he chose to rejoin his college coach and trusted mentor Brad Stevens, All-Stars Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, and the Boston Celtics.
“It was cathartic to write these things,” Hayward’s agent Mark Bartelstein told the Deseret News.
The blogs, which helped Hayward clarify some thoughts in an angst-filled process, were 90 percent written before Tuesday when Hayward planned on making his decision and announcement, according to Bartelstein. The final 10 percent was to be finished after the grueling decision was finalized.
The plan was for Hayward to quickly wrap up the blog, for his agent to inform the three front offices of the choice by phone, for The Players’ Tribune staff to hit send and publish the blog, and then to “let his words be heard,” Bartelstein explained.
As the Jazz and their fans can painfully attest, things don’t always happen as planned.
Before the blog was polished and published, and Hayward’s carefully planned announcement had a chance to take place, ESPN writer Chris Haynes tweeted out the bombshell scoop du jour at 12:17 p.m. MT:
“Free-agent Gordon Hayward plans to sign with the Boston Celtics, league sources tell ESPN.”
The reported news exploded like fireworks on the Fourth of July as respected, plugged-in NBA media members across the country — from ESPN, USA Today and the Boston Globe to The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News — reported that their sources confirmed Hayward’s intentions were to head to Beantown.
Not so fast.
A stop-the-presses moment (or the 2017 version) happened 10 minutes later when ESPN writer Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Hayward hadn’t informed the Jazz of his decision. Seven minutes later, Woj tweeted a quote from Bartelstein.
"Gordon hasn't made a decision yet. We are still working through it."
In other words, the scoop had supposedly scooped Hayward.
Multiple sources who’d been in contact with Hayward on Tuesday told the Deseret News the same thing. One source close to Hayward said the 27-year-old was leaning toward the Celtics in the morning but wasn’t aware that he’d made his final decision.
Bartelstein, who knows things might appear otherwise, claims that’s truly the case even while trusted reporters are sticking to their stories and backing their sources' claims that Hayward was indeed Boston-bound at that point.
The agent said Hayward was “strongly leaning” toward Boston but was still undecided. The Celtics hadn’t heard from his camp at that point, either.
“People can say now that that report was right. It was not,” Bartelstein said. “Anyone that says they knew Gordon knew what he was doing didn’t know. How could they know? Because he didn’t know.”
The next five and a half hours were full of drama, pandemonium, rumors, accusations, silliness, and confusion in the sports world and on social media. They were also filled with cautious optimism for the Jazz and their fans who started hoping that Hayward had changed his mind after feeling like their souls had been stung.
Jazz president Steve Starks even made a public announcement on Twitter, saying he believed Hayward’s camp.
“We trust Gordon and his agent that no decision has been made,” Starks wrote. “Good communication all day and a great relationship.”
Meanwhile, Hayward was upset about the development and Bartelstein was in all-out damage control/clarification/spin mode, depending who you believe. The agent had spent a lot of Monday night, late into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, chatting with Hayward and his inner circle about what to do. At this point, it was down to Boston and Utah, with the Celtics having an advantage. They decided to get some rest and revisit the decision Tuesday morning after spending a great, thought-provoking Monday afternoon with the Jazz at his San Diego home.
On Tuesday morning, Bartelstein contacted teams with a list of questions Hayward wanted answered, and the small forward started to have “a little bit more clarity” about choosing the Celtics for a four-year contract with a player option on the fourth year.
Bartelstein insists Hayward still hadn’t fully made up his mind, though, when all heck broke loose. They never wanted the news to break before informing Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey and others with whom they'd engaged in discussions.
“It caused chaos. It was really unfair to Gordon and to us,” Bartelstein said. “We are in the middle of going through this when all of a sudden this report came out that he’d made a decision. Obviously, we were flabbergasted this could come out.”
Some people suggested that a tweet from a Boston blogger that was posted at 9:25 a.m. MT provided proof that Hayward’s decision was made, though.
“I’m told Hayward is in process of a Players Trib piece,” Evan (@EvGuyBoston) Singleton wrote. “His mind is made up. And I’ve heard rumors it “Thanks Utah” … interesting.”
Bartelstein’s clarification that three versions of the blog had been mostly prepared leading up to the decision helps explain that, though. Headlines are often written out — with photos placed and copy flowed on the page — long before articles are published.
Even so, it’s widely believed that Hayward made his decision and spent the afternoon writing his blog — even after the supposed leak — because he wanted to break the news his way and refused to admit it until his piece had been posted.
“That,” Bartelstein said, “is complete nonsense.”
To that point, Bartelstein told Hayward on Tuesday morning he wouldn’t let the All-Star player make a final decision until he could convince him that it truly was what he wanted and intended to do. The agent said Hayward continued to be “twisted and turned” until clarity finally came late Tuesday afternoon.
Hayward then put the final touches on his blog post, which portrayed him as being complimentary of Utah and excited to get back with Stevens in Boston. The “Thank you, Utah” piece was tweeted out by the former Jazz player at 5:48 p.m.
Three minutes later, ESPN’s Haynes tweeted out a humorous meme of Hulk Hogan with his hand up to his ear as if to tell his naysayers that he couldn’t hear them anymore. Haynes stood by his story, keeping his initial tweet up all day despite taking a lot of heat all afternoon after it was reported that Hayward allegedly hadn’t decided at the time of his tweet.
Bartelstein admits anybody can claim otherwise because Hayward ended up choosing Boston, but he maintains the assertion that nobody, not even the star player, knew for sure until mid-to-late Tuesday afternoon.
While Hayward was the butt of jokes on social media for being indecisive, the highly coveted free agent changed his mind multiple times throughout the process, Bartelstein and other sources close to Hayward claim. That was by design to a point. Hayward wanted to be as open-minded as possible while making the biggest decision of his professional career.
Bartelstein said he and Hayward “literally had hundreds of conversations about his decision” between the time the Jazz were eliminated from their first playoff series in five years until free agency began at the stroke of midnight Eastern time on July 1. They broke down different options and extensively analyzed pluses and minuses of potential suitors, deciding that Miami, Boston and Utah were all attractive options. This was going to be a monumental decision for Hayward because NBA players of his stature only get one or two chances to sign mega-contracts and choose their own destination.
Incidentally, that deep dive into possibilities appeared to favor him staying in Utah.
"Always through this process the Jazz were the leader in the clubhouse because of the incredible integrity and class that Dennis, Quin and the Miller family showed," Bartelstein said. "The way they handled everything throughout Gordon’s career has been exemplary. It’s a wonderful place with a great, young team so leaving there was going to be really difficult."
Hayward’s camp whittled the candidates down to three and set up visits in Miami on Saturday, Boston on Sunday and with Utah in San Diego on Monday.
After every stop, a new leader in the clubhouse emerged.
Hayward’s trip to Miami was “an unbelievable visit,” the agent said. After spending time with Riley, Spoelstra and crew, Hayward told Bartelstein, “I can 100 percent see myself being here.”
Boston surpassed Miami the following day after Hayward and his wife, Robyn, got the chance to spend time with Stevens, general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
“I think this is the spot,” Hayward told his agent during a phone call from the plane Sunday night. “I think this is the right place for me.”
Added Bartelstein, “The whole Celtic mystique and tradition was really inspiring for him to be a part of that.”
The agent reminded his client that players go through this recruiting process so they can make the best decision after getting a good feel of each organization and city.
Meanwhile, Bartelstein said he was informing the Jazz what Hayward was experiencing and what topics to discuss so they could make the best possible presentation to a player that had been an integral part of Utah’s rebuilding process.
The Jazz traveled to San Diego to meet with Hayward in his second home. Owner Gail Miller, Lindsey, Starks, Snyder, Gobert, Ingles, Rodney Hood and recently acquired Ricky Rubio (flown in from Spain) were all there to hopefully persuade Hayward to stay in the family. He had the potential to become an all-time legend a la John Stockton and Karl Malone. The Jazz wanted to commit to him for life, and vice versa.
One source close to Hayward told the Deseret News that the nearly four-hour meeting was “excellent.” Bartelstein called it "a home run."
The presentation became emotional because of their relationships and the journey they’d been on together, going from a 25-win team to a team that won 51 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
The Jazz were back in the lead after the meeting ended.
“Everything that you would want to touch on to make someone feel that they’d never want to leave is exactly what they did,” Bartelstein said. “And it worked.”
After the Jazz contingent left, Hayward had a two-hour conversation with his rep.
“How do I leave here? How can I leave this?” Hayward asked Bartelstein. “He was very emotional. He was tortured.”
Hayward explained why in the third version of his blog that was published.
It boiled down to his loyalty and relationship with a guy he respectfully calls “Coach Stevens.” The Celtics head coach was there for Hayward when he was at Butler making the tough decision to forego his junior and senior years to enter the NBA draft, and here he was again there for him at a critical juncture of his professional career.
The Jazz could offer Hayward continuity of a fun rebuild in a familiar environment, the opportunity to continue progressing under the tutelage of Snyder and staff, and a very tempting fifth year on a contract ($172 million compared to $128 million the Celtics offered him).
But they couldn’t offer him Coach Stevens — or, for that matter, a seemingly easier path to becoming an All-Star and to making the NBA Finals.
Ultimately, that was enough to convince him to spurn Utah, say no to South Beach and head to Boston in what Hayward called in his blog "the toughest decision of my life."
“There were so many great things pulling me in that direction. There was the winning culture of Boston, as a city — from the Sox, to the Pats, to the Bruins. There was the special history of the Celtics, as a franchise — from Russell, to Bird, to Pierce, and it goes on," Hayward wrote.
"There was the amazing potential of this current Celtics roster, as a team — from ownership, to the front office, to a talented roster with Isaiah, and Al, and everyone else. And of course, there was Coach Stevens: Not just for the relationship that we’ve built off the court — but also for the one that we started building on the court, all of those years ago, in Indiana.
And that unfinished business we had together, back in 2010, when I left Butler for the NBA … as far as I’m concerned, all of these years later, we still have it:
And that’s to win a championship."
The Jazz had grand visions of that happening with them.
Bartelstein, who helped negotiate a four-year, $52 million deal for Ingles over the weekend, said it was hard for him that the Jazz's dreams were dashed in terms of Hayward's decision. He has a good relationship with the front office. He works with them often. He liked the direction of the team. Ultimately, of course, his job is to do what's best for his client, just as the Jazz also have to make heartbreaking trades or cuts.
"Calling Dennis was a brutal phone call," Bartelstein said. "As a general manager, you couldn't do things with more class and integrity than Dennis has done them. He did everything in his power and more to show Gordon the right thing to do was to stay in Utah. No pressure. Just always done the classy way."
It almost worked. Hayward just chose a familiar old friend over his current family in unfortunate circumstances that resulted in Jazz fans experiencing a double dose of heartbreak on an unforgettable Fourth of July.
It was painful for Hayward, too.
"He had to make a decision that was in his best interest, and it broke his heart," Bartelstein said. "But he had to make the decision (for him). He had three incredible choices and that's what made it so hard. There was no no-brainer."