Take a deep breath, read the following ridiculously long sentence, and consider the resultant questions.
Everybody’s asking what the Jazz can do to build upon the foundation they set this past season after cultivating the skills and confidence of a great rookie … furthering the presence of the best defender in the league … making a legitimate force out of a journeyman wing that just a few years ago was chucked overboard by the Clippers … refining the play and increasing the prowess of a new-to-them point guard some thought was disadvantageously limited … utilizing the strengths of a traditional, outdated power forward … getting rid of a malcontent 2 guard … adding a 3 that also could play 4 but that was misused by his former club and thought to be in decline … and developing another rookie nobody drafted or wanted.
Where’s the encore?
What do they do next?
Here’s an idea, one that might be impossible, but given some Pat Riley-like maneuverings and machinations would put the Jazz on the Western Conference’s top shelf right next to the Warriors and Rockets. Absolutely next to them. Not below them. With them. He’s exactly what they need, what they lack.
A few hints:
He can shoot. He can score. He can play the wing. He can play defense. He can run. He can initiate the offense. He’s athletic. He’s heady. He understands what Quin Snyder and the Jazz want to get done at both ends. And his current team, turns out, doesn’t really need him the way it thought it did.
The Jazz should acquire the man who never should have left them.
The Jazz need Gordon Hayward. If not Hayward, a player just like him.
I know what you’re thinking.
What a stupid idea.
Why would the Jazz want that carpetbagger who left them in such a fix last offseason, a fix that messed them up so badly that they were better this year than last? Who would want a dude who strung them along, who could have helped them mitigate his loss, which he knew was happening no matter what he said and no matter what the Jazz did, no matter what he wrote in his far-too-late farewell piece, a disingenuous epistle that accomplished nothing but epistling off everyone along the Wasatch Front? He could have been clear and honest but chose instead to string along the Jazz and their fans. Who would want that?
Here’s who: the Jazz.
The Celtics’ success doesn’t really hang on Hayward anymore. They don’t need him. They’ve got two young guys — Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — who are better than him and who essentially play the same position. Boston thought it needed Hayward, but … not anymore.
If the Jazz were to add Hayward — or a player like him — to the mix of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, they would have the third player every title contender needs, the glorious trifecta. And they would be just about the equal of any team in the league, in part because of the way they are coached and a lineup that could include the most valuable of the role players who so substantially bolster the stars.
What would the Jazz have to give up to get Hayward? Beats me. How about a couple of first-rounders and anyone on the roster not named Mitchell and Gobert who would make the numbers work? Get creative. Strike while the striking is good, man. Maybe the Celtics realize their redundancy at the wing, regardless of any pact or friendship Hayward built with Brad Stevens back at Butler. Either way, Jazz ownership would be happy to blow into the luxury-tax realm, if necessary, to win a title.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that Hayward bolted for Boston, where he thought he’d make such an impact, only to find himself sidelined for the season while the young Celtics solidified themselves as legitimate.
And the Jazz added a player in Mitchell who will be a star for years to come, who can do the heavy lifting that Hayward never wanted to do, who does not play the exact same position. Now Hayward would fit in perfectly with the MitchGo combo and make the Jazz, at worst, the second- or third-best team in the league. Certainly better than any team in the East, Boston included.
OK, so never mind. Maybe the acquisition of Hayward really is impossible.
That doesn’t change the Jazz’s primary need.
They need a player, if not Hayward, somebody like him. Somebody who approximates his skill set, minus the attitude and surliness. Dennis Lindsey, as we speak, has a list of names written on a board somewhere, most of whom have the potential to do the kinds of things Hayward does. Maybe they can get Player X in a trade. Maybe they can move up in the draft to get him and develop him. Maybe there’s a free agent over the next couple of years who will come their way, who wants to come their way.
There are possibilities out there.
Flush the idea out of your mind that those possibilities do not exist.
Lindsey has repeated again and again that the Jazz’s goal — and plan — is to win a championship. Mitchell and Gobert have said the same thing, as has Gail Miller. Do you believe them? Lindsey’s a smart man who works with a smart coach, and both are employed and empowered by a smart owner, an owner willing to spend what it takes.
Possibilities are all around.
Money on the table says Hayward has reflected on, thought about those possibilities, even if he would never, ever admit it. Those mental meanderings must have banged around inside his head as he sat and healed, as he watched the Jazz become better this season without him than they ever were with him.
He might love Boston and Stevens. But … had he only stayed with the Jazz, if he were in the lineup with Mitchell and Gobert and the rest, where he actually was needed, they already would have surpassed any team in the East, including his own.
If the Jazz can’t get him, they’ll get somebody like him, somehow, some way. Count on it.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.