Gordon Hayward’s demeanor after the game that ended the Jazz’s season last week at Memphis descended to the same subterranean level it had fallen to after every loss, particularly the 28 beatdowns on the road: a dark place somewhere between disappointment and devastation. There may have been disgust mixed in, too.
"It was a long, long flight home," he said later.
Nobody on the Jazz loathed defeat the way Hayward did this season. He considered a loss a failure, and that failure often looked as though it was painted on his face with a mop. In the aftermath of another road loss a few weeks ago, Hayward almost went nitro. He nearly erupted, but decided, instead, to keep his frustrations bottled.
That was the earlier version of Gordon Hayward. The new, upcoming iteration won’t be so … contained. The player who often deferred to veterans on the floor and in the locker room, as of Wednesday night’s defeat, started shedding his outer layer of timidity. If he was going to suffer the way he did, he might as well take greater control.
He knows now — because coaches and team executives have told him — his role on the Jazz will change moving forward. It has to change.
Not only must he step up and lead out, he has to accept the responsibility of being one of the featured faces of the franchise. Not just because his mug, along with Derrick Favors’, will be splashed on billboards marketing the club, but on account of the team’s desperate need for leadership.
Hayward gets all that.
"I look forward to it," he said.
He has no choice.
"[Gordon] is ready to take a bigger role," said general manager Dennis Lindsey. "There are a lot of big requirements by us to start setting [high] standards — what we’re going to stand for, what our culture will be. He’s a very good person to lead those efforts."
Hayward wouldn’t acknowledge it. In fact, he denied that he sat back this season, waiting his turn to become the Jazz’s frontman. But that’s exactly what he did and was, always cognizant of his place behind the vets, even though he saw up-close their deficiencies. He felt that peer pressure and typically acquiesced to it.
That’s pretty much done with, he claimed.
"I need to evolve next year, take a lot bigger role," Hayward said. "You just take the experiences and apply them. In college, everyone’s the same age. In the NBA, it’s different. I think we had some great leaders on this team this year. Mo [Williams] was the vocal guy we needed. That’s something I can strive to be. I’ve never been an extremely vocal person. But when the time is right, there are definitely things to be said. … I’m looking forward to the challenge, stepping up to more of a leadership role."
The morning after the season ended, Hayward addressed a few of the pressing needs facing the Jazz, as two-thirds of the roster barrels toward free agency. Asked about those changes, he said: "Everybody’s wondering that, players included. It’s going to be an interesting offseason." Those remaining, including him, Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Jeremy Evans and Marvin Williams, and whoever joins them, must correct the problems of the past:
• "We’ve got to get better on the road," Hayward said. "We played pretty well at home, but, for whatever reason, we didn’t have the same toughness on the road. That comes from us as players. It’s something we can get better at."
• "You want to compete for championships, and the best teams are real good defensively," he said. "Their rotations are really solid … whether the offense is going or not, the defense has to be there to keep us in games."
• "Execution down the stretch," he said. "That’s what good teams do."
As for his own improvement, Hayward said he’ll work out mostly at home in Indianapolis, including a couple of hours of skills refinement in the morning, two hours of lifting afterward, and two hours of open gym at night. Two areas of concentrated personal focus: shooting and ball handling.
He’s fully aware he has to elevate his own game. He thinks he can become an All-Star. But his heavy call now is to make sure everybody’s game is lifted.
"Hopefully," he said, "we can round up some of the younger guys and put some work in over the summer to prepare us for next season. We all have to get better."
Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM, 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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