Gordon Hayward leaned toward the Celtics in the final days of his free agency. The All-Star forward said his relationship with Brad Stevens was overstated as a reason for leaving the Utah Jazz for the Boston Celtics. And while he loves the Jazz, the temptation of competing for an NBA title in the Eastern Conference was too much.
Paraphrasing, Hayward said that and more in a podcast with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
In his first exclusive interview since making the jump to the Celtics, Hayward described his emotions leading up to his exit from the Jazz, the thought process behind his decision and the events that contributed to his controversial exit.
The podcast lasted a little over an hour. In it, Hayward said he didn't realize his decision would cause so much attention. Addressing a past matter, he said hard feelings from his restricted free agency with the Jazz — which led him to go onto the market and get an offer sheet from the Charlotte Hornets — had no bearing on his choice to go to Boston.
Instead, Hayward said the Eastern Conference proved to be a draw, and that the road to the NBA Finals is less daunting than it would be in the Western Conference.
"You look at the division the Jazz are in, and that is a tough division," Hayward told ESPN.com. "Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Portland, Denver. Like that's going to be a really tough division and you're playing those teams four times a year. The All-Star thing is going to be hard no matter what division you're in, but certainly with the amount of stars that are in the Western Conference now, especially at the forward position, too. It's loaded, and you better have a really good first half of the season if you want to get in [to the All-Star Game]. A lot of that to me always comes down to how your team does. If your team is winning, then it's going to be a lot easier for you. Like I said, that for sure crosses your mind."
Hayward is going to a Celtics team that can go to the Finals for the first time in almost a decade. Boston is stacked with veteran talent, young guys who can develop into stars and assets for the future.