Gordon Hayward’s departure for greener jerseys in Boston is not just bad news for Utah, it’s bad news for the NBA.
It’s bad news because unless you’re on one of the two traditional glamour franchises — Celtics, Lakers — or an artificially created Super Team — Warriors, Cavs — you have no chance to develop a team and no chance to win a championship.
Utah Jazz fans, your team will NEVER win a championship. Never. Not with the way the league is structured today. That’s why Hayward went wayward, to the Boston Celtics.
It’s right there in the last three paragraphs of his farewell letter posted on The Players' Tribune. He is leaving because he wants to win a championship, which means he doesn’t believe he can win one here.
And of course he is right.
The NBA’s soft cap/luxury tax, the creation of the supermax contract, and the ease of player movement, makes the rich richer, penalizes the lesser teams, and kills competitiveness in the NBA.
The Jazz did things the right way, or what was once considered the right way. Dennis Lindsey and the Jazz front office built a team methodically. It took years to do it, but they stuck with the plan and begged Utah fans for their patience through lean years. Seven years ago the Jazz began to build the team around Hayward. He was only 20 years old. A kid. His development was anything but certain; the Jazz helped make him into an All-Star. They helped him exceed expectations. They were patient, they worked with him, they built the core of the team around him.
Then when his contract ended, he bolted.
You’re welcome, Boston. Glad to help.
So the Jazz get nothing for their seven-year investment. They are forced to start over and it’s highly likely that if they rebuild the team around another star player that the result will be the same. It’s a futile process.
So, here’s what it all means (or reconfirms) about the role of the Utah Jazz and all but a handful of teams in the NBA: Their job is to fill out the schedule during the regular season, sell tickets and serve as a farm team for the big boys. Thanks for playing.
The Cavaliers were a farm team for the Miami Heat, developing and coddling the teenage LeBron James for seven years before watching him collude to create an All-Star team in Miami for an instant championship. Oklahoma City invested years in James Harden and Kevin Durant, only to see them grow up and join other teams. Toronto was a farm team for Chris Bosh. New Orleans was a farm team for Chris Paul. And so it goes.
The departure of Hayward destroys any notion that a team such as the Jazz can build through shrewd draft picks and trades and player development. They took no shortcuts, at least in part because they don’t have the ability to take them. Like most teams, and for a variety of reasons, they can’t sign big-time free agents.
It’s easy to blame Hayward for his disloyalty, but most of the blame lies with the NBA and the system it has created. Because of that system, you could argue that it makes perfect sense for Hayward to join Boston.
Sure, he took less money to join the Celtics, but in the long run he’ll make more. He’ll be eligible for a supermax contract in three years, and he will have a much better chance of achieving stardom in the Eastern Conference than he would in the Western Conference, which is overwhelmingly more talented than the East.
In Boston, Hayward will join a team poised to rule the Eastern Conference for years. The Celtics, who had the best record in the conference last season, have collected seven first-round draft picks for the next two years, and four of them are likely to be lottery picks. Meanwhile, James will probably leave Cleveland in a year, but even if he doesn’t his skills will decline in the next couple of years.
Either way, the Cavs will lose their stranglehold on the East, giving way to the Celtics. Hayward will benefit financially from deep runs into the playoffs annually and the media exposure it brings. Hayward is overrated by those who consider him a franchise’s No. 1 player. On a championship team, he is a No. 3, and that’s about where he’ll rate in Boston.
But looking at the bigger picture, Hayward’s move to Boston will have a trickle-down effect on the league. With players refusing to re-sign contracts and wanting to test the free-agent market for max deals or championship-caliber franchises, teams run the risk of getting nothing in return for their investment in a player a la the Jazz and Hayward.
If nothing else, the NBA needs to establish a rule that requires a minimum exchange of assets for free-agent losses. That’s what happens in the real business world, where the FCC must approve certain acquisitions to maintain a competitive business environment and head off monopolies.
The league also badly needs a hard salary cap to prevent teams from hoarding the best players. The luxury tax system is a complete failure and NFL-like competitiveness is nonexistent.
With star players threatening to leave via free agency, teams will soon start making preemptive strikes and dump them, which is exactly what the Pacers did with Paul George, who made it known he would not re-sign. The Cavaliers should consider doing the same thing with James.
Either way, as of Monday, the Jazz have to start over, again, and the NBA just got even less competitive.