Utah Jazz fans had to endure a Fourth of July bombshell when star forward Gordon Hayward announced that he will be leaving Salt Lake City to join the Boston Celtics next season.
But upon hearing the news, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey and head coach Quin Snyder went to work on a plan to keep the team competitive after it made its first playoff appearance in five years.
“You can’t ignore the impact of a talent like Gordon, and not only the talent, but the maturity and the growth,” Lindsey said before Utah’s Summer League game against Philadelphia on Wednesday. “We have some work to do, but we look forward to what we have to do going forward to improve our group.”
Hayward officially announced his departure in an article for The Players’ Tribune on Tuesday evening after rumors of his decision were leaked to ESPN earlier in the day, leading to Hayward’s agent quickly refuting that his client had already picked Boston. His decision to leave Utah led to some vitriolic responses from frustrated fans on social media, but there are few hard feelings in the Jazz organization itself toward its former star.
“If you’re in the business, you know that this is possible,” Lindsey said. “It’s time for us to pivot. It’s time for us to move on, and we like our young group.”
Hayward’s departure figures to give additional opportunities to players such as power forward Derrick Favors, who Lindsey said is now fully healthy, along with Joe Ingles and Rodney Hood. The Jazz are also excited about the addition of point guard Ricky Rubio through a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, as well as the continued development of center Rudy Gobert, widely considered among the top centers in the NBA.
“Ricky Rubio, we think, is going to be the 2017 facsimile of Jason Kidd,” Lindsey said. “Certainly, losing Gordon, we’re going to have to find a way offensively, so we’re excited about challenging Ricky [and] breathing life into him. I can see him leading the league in assists. We may need to find him some more shooters besides Rodney and Joe Johnson.”
Jazz point guard Dante Exum said he wishes Hayward and his family well, but he is also excited for the increased role Hayward’s departure might create for him as he enters his third year in the NBA.
“He made the decision for his family — I have no hard feelings against him and I wish him the best of luck,” Exum said. “He’s been great for the state of Utah and basketball here. There’s so many fans because of him. Hopefully, we can continue to develop. We have a really good team, still, without him, and we’ll only get better.”