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Gordon Hayward Picks Boston, As Danny Ainge’s Rebuild Hits Its Apex

Meanwhile, the Jazz are left to rebuild around Rudy Gobert

(Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration)

The Fourth of July has become, unofficially, Free-Agent Decision day. In 2015, LaMarcus Aldridge chose the Spurs; in 2016, Kevin Durant chose the Warriors. Both left the teams they got their starts with.

Now, it’s Gordon Hayward choosing Boston, returning to his Butler roots and rejoining his coach Brad Stevens, ESPN reported Tuesday (amid mass confusion on NBA Twitter).

What It Means for Boston

Boston finally got its star — sort of. Hayward is undoubtedly one of the top 20 players in the league, but given what the Celtics’ original plan was reported to be — Hayward and a trade for Paul George — this feels like an anticlimactic improvement rather than a league-shifting move. Landing two All-Stars would have put the Celtics in the top echelon alongside the Warriors and Cavs. Still, in Hayward, Boston gets an increasingly efficient player and another crunch-time scorer. The deal is also a tangible result of the rebuilding process under Danny Ainge. Finally, not a pick, but a player.

There’s little doubt that Hayward may improve even more — he’s only 27 — even if he plays in an offense that prioritizes ball movement and balance. In Boston, and the weakened East, his profile can grow both on and off the court, while his team has all the makings of an Eastern Conference contender for the foreseeable future.

The Celtics may have not landed George, Jimmy Butler, or any top-10 superstars. But they got better by adding Hayward, and they’re still built for the future by keeping their assets, gaining another pick, and drafting the promising Jayson Tatum. Not a bad offseason.

What It Means for Miami

That Hayward seriously considered Miami is a victory in itself. Pat Riley’s still got it. Even if he hasn’t lured a big free agent for some time, players remain interested in Miami, and more importantly, the Heat’s culture, which led them to a 30–11 record in the second half of last season.

Missing out on Hayward means two things: (1) the Heat could bring back most, if not all of the same core that led them to that inspiring second half, including James Johnson and Dion Waiters, who are still on the market, and (2) they have flexibility for next offseason, when Riley can unspool his line once again and chase even bigger fish.

What It Means for Utah

It’s always a bummer when a small-market team loses its prized player, especially one as talented and important to the operation as Hayward is to the Jazz. In a loaded West, the Jazz are no longer a surefire playoff team after losing Hayward to Boston and George Hill to the Kings, despite acquiring Ricky Rubio via trade, keeping Joe Ingles, and now centering their team around Rudy Gobert — an underrated player who may be one of the best centers in the league. But unlike the Thunder, who were able to build around Russ when KD departed, they are a team without a true superstar.

Quin Snyder is relentless, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he has this team back in the second round of the playoffs next season. But for now, the Jazz have a clear ceiling, which they may have reached last season. Hayward’s absence will be felt this season and beyond, and what Utah does to regroup and move forward may be the franchise’s most crucial task yet.