Some might think it’s time to completely turn either the page or their backs on Gordon Hayward and his time in Utah, especially after the Jazz’s trip to Boston last week, when Hayward spoke to the issue of leaving the Jazz and having no regrets about that. But there’s one more discussion to have before we do one or the other, once and for all.
It centers on the loss of Hayward and the gain of the player who is turning into the new darling of the Jazz, the player who has captured the attention of you, me, Quin Snyder, LeBron, Paul George, Chris Paul, and plenty of other players, coaches, and front-office guys who are slapping themselves for not doing whatever it would have taken to draft the kid — Donovan Mitchell.
So, here’s the question: Would you trade Mitchell for Hayward straight up?
It’s not meant as an authentic question to be seriously considered. Boston isn’t putting Hayward on the market. The Jazz most definitely are not trading Mitchell. It’s meant more as a comparison of the two, an evaluation of what they bring to the table, what’s more valuable, what the Jazz need more.
The direct answer to the question isn’t no. It’s hell no.
As hurt as the Jazz and their fans felt, as betrayed by Hayward’s disingenuous behavior leading up to his leaving and the leaving itself, for all the handwringing over his decision, for all the breath and ink and inter-web space spent talking, writing, reading about it, his exit is not the Jazz’s story of the year.
DonovaMitch is the story of the year.
That’s not just a nickname, it’s an expression. It’s both. Something to be said with gusto and respect when the kid hits a guarded 3-pointer, when he whirls through the lane for a layup, when he snatches an alley and flushes an oop.
Even more, the combo-pack of Mitchell’s eagerness to be with the Jazz and his passion for the game is infectious. His personality and his play is a rocket to ride, a belted seat in a Bugatti Veyron. Hayward’s was first-class passage in an Airbus A320, the middle seat in the back of a Buick LeSabre.
OK, let’s pause here.
This is not meant to be a piece ripping Hayward, a man, a valuable player, who improved greatly by his own effort while under the tutelage of Snyder and assistant coaches such as Johnnie Bryant. On the other hand, as I’ve written before, Hayward’s departure was more an insult to Snyder than it was to anyone else. Hayward mentioned in his infamous published epistle he was leaving the Jazz to rejoin Brad Stevens, his college coach, in Boston.
But he made more progress under Snyder than he did under Stevens.
Which is one of the reasons why nobody should take Hayward for Mitchell. By the time Snyder is finished with the youngster, he’ll be an All-Star. He’ll be a mainstay All-Star.
Not only does Mitchell have the physical tools to play at that level, he’s got the attitude, too, the competitive heart of a hoop killer. Once Snyder is done educating and tutoring and polishing that double-barreled weaponry, Mitchell will become one of the best players in the league.
Ask LeBron. Ask Paul. Ask George. Ask DeMarcus Cousins. They know what they see in the kid is the truth. What’s more, they know what’s still coming — savvy to go with the hunger, and all the rest.
A concession: There will be additional nights like Mitchell’s subpar contribution Monday night against the Rockets, a night when he scored just six points in limited action. He is a rookie, after all. And even though he’s finished many games strong as the Jazz’s No. 1 option down the stretch, some games will remain unfinished. That’s life in the NBA.
The Jazz entered the fourth quarter in Houston up eight, and they surrendered 41 points in that final period without Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors. They lost by the sorry count of 120-99.
“We had some breakdowns,” Snyder said. “… We wore down.”
Another concession: The Jazz won 51 games, and a first-round series in the playoffs as Hayward led the way, with the help of George Hill last season.
The Jazz sit at 14-17 this season without Hayward or Hill and with Mitchell. Chances are fat, especially with Gobert out another month, that they’ll get near 51 wins this time around.
But the future is bright with Mitchell growing into his own talent, Gobert as the other pillar and Dennis Lindsey figuring out who the attendant pieces should be. Those who wish to torture themselves thinking about what the Jazz might have been had they added Mitchell and kept Hayward can go ahead and do so.
But masochism is a choice.
It’s easy to project over the next six years that the Jazz will be better off with Mitchell and without Hayward than they would have been the other way around. That path will be a longer time arriving, but it ultimately will lead to a loftier place. Not this season, but in the years ahead.
Talent is on Mitchell’s side.
Aggression is on Mitchell’s side.
Charisma is on Mitchell’s side.
Time is on Mitchell’s side.
Tomorrow is on Mitchell’s side.
Gordon Hayward isn’t the story of 2017. Donovan Mitchell is.
With him, imagine what 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 might bring.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.