SALT LAKE CITY — Much as I’m tempted to remind Gordon Hayward why he should stay in Utah, I won’t, except to say he really should try the Lion House rolls.
Everything else, he already knows.
On the other hand, there might be reasons to leave, even beyond the potential of championships and fame. If he leaves the Jazz via free agency next month, it could be because he privately doesn’t love Utah, or he dislikes someone on the team, or he wants to play for his college coach who is now in Boston.
Heaven knows if he’s holding a grudge over that bad sandwich that sidelined him during the playoffs.
What if he just wants to live near water? Miami and Boston have plenty of that. He currently resides in the second-most arid state. Meanwhile, Utah might annoy him if he happens to be a Democrat.
Some people just prefer bigger cities, warmer weather or shorter distances to their hometown.
Not that he has already left, but when your options are hundreds of millions of dollars in Utah vs. hundreds of millions elsewhere, does it really matter? If he leaves, I’ll happily give Hayward this: He earned it. All of it. The chance to choose from among great options, the freedom of movement, the sense of being wanted.
Regardless, it shouldn’t be boiled down to a matter of loyalty. Hayward has given the Jazz seven years. That’s not a bathroom break. He re-signed with them after his first contract, bought a house, started a family, visited hospitals. He put up with weather inversions, brine shrimp and questions from opposing players who said, “What are you doing there?”
So nobody should begrudge him for wanting to see what offers he gets, or be resentful if he leaves. That’s not the same as being disappointed. Boy, should they be disappointed.
Realistically, it must be hard for Hayward to watch Kevin Durant win a title and not want to look around. Durant said LeBron James — the original “Super Team” maker — paved the way for him to join the Warriors via free agency.
Nobody stays at the same job for life. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2016 that Americans had been with their current employer an average of 4.2 years, down from 4.6 years in 2014. But the average tenure of workers 25-34 (Hayward is 27) was just 3.2 years. Among the reasons cited for leaving their jobs were higher pay, different geography, career advancement and escaping a boss. Pay and bosses may not be an issue for Hayward, but geography and career advancement could.
In any case, Hayward positioned himself by being stronger than he looked when he arrived as a baby-faced Midwesterner. He lifted weights, grew a beard, changed his game and restyled his hair. In other words, he grew up. Remember when Delonte West taunted Hayward by poking his finger in his ear? Then there were the times Deron Williams embarrassed him by tossing the ball or yelling at him.
Hayward would have been within his rights to punch either of the above.
Instead, he kept his objectives in mind. He didn’t let Williams, West or anyone else sidetrack him. His player efficiency rating this year was 27th in the NBA. According to Memphis vice president John Hollinger’s famous formula, Hayward’s metrics say he’s in the “borderline All-Star” category, but below “definite All-Star.”
Sorry, metrics. There’s nothing “borderline” about him now. He’s a star.
So Hayward is all grown up, a player with a lot of options. He said after the playoffs he had “nothing but love for everybody in Utah.” That doesn’t mean he’s going to stay, nor does it indicate he’s faking affection. It only means it’s been a good ride so far, one he appreciates. But he’s an athlete in his prime, looking for a title. Or maybe just looking for something new. Free agency allows that. As George Orwell put it, “Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”