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Kragthorpe: Biggest summer in Utah Jazz history will intensify this week

First Published      Last Updated Jun 19 2017 09:26 pm

Gordon Hayward never believed his agent's prediction that the phone would start ringing at 12:01 a.m. July 1.

That was three years ago, when some percentage of fans didn't care whether or not the Jazz kept Hayward as a free agent. Many of them thought the team paid too much in matching the offer sheet he signed with Charlotte. How silly does that seem now?

The latest saga involving Hayward already is crazy, even before July 1. Try selling any of this stuff as nonfiction: The No. 1 pursuer is Boston, an organization operated by Danny Ainge, who long ago hired Hayward's college coach and whose son Tanner is running for a vacated congressional seat in Utah. Another threat is Miami, run by Pat Riley, who was coaching the rival Los Angeles Lakers in an epic playoff series with the Jazz nearly 30 years ago, when coach Frank Layden looked liked the bobblehead image of him that the Salt Lake Bees produced last week.




Mix in the drama of Hayward's wife posting a photo of their daughter in a "Go Green" shirt with a shamrock — not the Celtics' logo, but close enough — and you get the makings of a Jazz offseason that's only going to become more of a wild adventure in the next month.

And now that angst is more measurable in the social media explosion of this decade, it becomes easy to conclude that this will be the most agonizing summer Jazz fans ever have experienced. Thursday's NBA draft will intensify the most meaningful offseason in franchise history.

Anyone doubt that? The picks of John Stockton in 1984 and Karl Malone in '85 don't count because nobody knew what they would become. Stockton's retirement and Malone's departure to the Lakers in 2003 were different, coming at the end of their era. Even when Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Wesley Mathews left via free agency in 2010, everyone sensed the Jazz had maximized what they could do with those guys and Deron Williams after averaging 51.5 wins over four seasons and continually running into the Lakers in the playoffs.

This is different. The Jazz are ascending after a 51-31 season, although that remains true only if Hayward stays. The momentum generated by the team's first playoff series victory in seven years would be lost. The Vivint Smart Home Arena renovations won't look nearly as good if Hayward is not playing in the building.

Utahns shouldn't take it personally if Hayward goes. But professionally, it would derail the Jazz's entire rebuilding project. So how would you like to be Dennis Lindsey right now?

The Jazz's general manager needs a solution at point guard, and that issue plays into Hayward's situation. The variable is that Hayward hardly could wait until George Hill's future is determined because Hill's free agency will involve some shopping after July 1.

Life was much simpler last summer. Lindsey merely traded the No. 12 pick in the draft for Hill, who became the Jazz's 11th starting point guard since the team traded Williams in 2011. Hill and Hayward blended wonderfully, but Hill's injuries raise questions about how much the Jazz are willing to pay him.

Hayward can't re-sign with the Jazz without knowing who's their point guard, though. See what I mean? This is complicated.

Thursday's draft, with the Jazz owning the Nos. 24 and 30 picks in the first round and two more picks in the second round, will give all of us more material for discussion but probably not a lot of clarity regarding what will happen with Hill or Hayward.

James Hansen, a contributor to the SLC Dunk website, produced a clever animated video showing Jazz center Rudy Gobert with a mission of finding the NBA Defensive Player of the Year trophy (the award will be presented next week) and saving Hayward from Boston's clutches. The conclusion? "To be continued."

The actual ending will come in July, right about the time former BYU star Danny Ainge's Celtics are playing in the Jazz's Summer League — at the University of Utah.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

 

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