Without a star. In the pits. Mix this metaphor: It would flat suck.
The Jazz would find themselves set back two or three seasons, at least. All those deliberate steps, none of which were skipped, would have to be trod over again.
Dennis Lindsey knows this. The general manager, more than anyone, has poured his heart and soul, his energy and acumen into the Jazz's rebuild.
He was asked the other day how much he worried about holding onto Hayward, what he could do to hold onto him.
His answer was measured, but candid. He essentially made bare for all to see and hear the Jazz's pitch to their centerpiece. It veered around, hitting the important points, tinged on all sides with a this-is-all-we-can-do sense.
"There's quite a few things that go into answering that question," Lindsey said. "Are you investing in the team? What do your facilities look like? Gordon … we cleared the path for him to become a primary player. … There were two or three exit meetings where Gordon said, 'Hey, I can be a primary player. I can be the guy.' At the time, early in his career, there wasn't a lot of data that would prove that. So, you had to make a gut, visceral reaction to, 'Hey, this guy believes what he's saying, he's putting in the work, he's grinding to that point.'"
"We had to make a gut decision towards that. [Gordon] recognizes it. He recognizes when the time came to add the veterans, we did so. The best thing we [could] do is draft and develop Rudy Gobert. And keep Derrick Favors. And have a coach who's really smart and dynamic that is able to bend the offense towards primary wings in Gordon and Rodney Hood. …
"And then you go into, 'Do you bend yourself over backward and be something that you're not … [No], you treat [Gordon] with great respect and care and be honest with him and [agent] Mark Bartelstein, and have Joe Ingles, who also has Mark Bartelstein, come in and develop as a 27-year-old.
"You're hopeful that just operating from a value-based standpoint, operating from a position of truth and humility will be enough. Let's be frank, we have an incumbent advantage. We have a fifth year and higher raises and a state that isn't very expensive to live in, and a great coach.
"And think about this: If you're a primary player anywhere in the NBA, let's set Gordon aside, and you have a true franchise cornerstone in Rudy Gobert, who doesn't really need the ball to contribute, then that's more possessions for the 1, 2, 3, and 4s. We don't care if Rudy Gobert turns into Hakeem Olajuwon. We just want him to be the best version of Rudy Gobert that he can be. If you're looking at it from a free agent's standpoint, where do I have to go and share the ball with someone? There's only 90 to 100 possessions in a game, you can only divide that up so many ways.
"The best way to summarize it is, just day to day, do the right thing. Then, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'We did everything possible to keep a good player.'"
There you have it.
The Jazz will sell to Hayward the franchise's facilities and commitment, the quality of the coach, the other players, the club culture and makeup, the fact that the other biggest star on the team — Gobert — does not need or demand the ball at the offensive end, leaving more opportunity for Hayward to take shots, to pile up numbers and glory, to be the star he's been so happy to become this season. On account of league rules, they will offer Hayward more money and a longer deal than anyone else can. And, finally, they will underscore and count on the fact that they are good, capable people who do things the right way and who will earn Hayward's loyalty.
Which is to say, the Jazz will do everything they can to keep the man they drafted in 2010, the one who told them he could be the guy and who, in fact, when given the chance, actually became the guy. They'll pay him a ridiculous amount of money, they'll go on tossing him the keys to the car and let him drive the thing hard moving forward. They'll sign whoever else they can to maintain the Jazz as a legitimate team, which includes targeting Hill.
The irony in all of that is this: Hayward has indicated, outside of money, his primary emphasis is winning, contending for a championship. If he plays up to the form he has shown this season, the Jazz's chances for that kind of success are greatly enhanced. If he doesn't, they are not. So, if he holds up his end of the deal, and others contribute sufficiently, he'll win and he'll want to stay. If he doesn't …