Hayward will join a Celtics team, coached by his college bench boss, that made it to the Eastern Conference finals this past season.
USA TODAY Sports
Free agent forward Gordon Hayward announced his intention to leave the Utah Jazz and sign with the Boston Celtics, the All-Star wrote on The Players’ Tribune Tuesday night.
Hayward agreed to a four-year, $128 million deal with a player option on the fourth year, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The saga ended Tuesday night after USA TODAY Sports and other media outlets reported that Hayward intended to sign with the Celtics earlier in the day.
“I know that will be tough to hear for Jazz fans — and I really want you all to know that you mean the world to me and my family,” Hayward wrote. “Over the past few days, I’ve been genuinely torn. And I know that this process isn’t easy on the fans, either.”
“They say that Salt Lake is a great place to raise a family — and I know that sounds like something people just say. But you spend enough time here … and you realize that it’s true,” he continued. “And for me, as far as that goes — I feel like I’m indebted to Salt Lake, twice over.”
But Hayward, as he made clear, felt it was time to move on.
“There was the special history of the Celtics, as a franchise — from Russell, to Bird, to Pierce, and it goes on. There was the amazing potential of this current Celtics roster, as a team — from ownership, to the front office, to a talented roster with Isaiah, and Al, and everyone else. And of course, there was Coach Stevens: Not just for the relationship that we’ve built off the court — but also for the one that we started building on the court, all of those years ago, in Indiana.”
With his decision, the move makes the Eastern Conference interesting again.
In these recent days of NBA chaos, Jimmy Butler (Chicago to Minnesota) and Paul George (Indiana to Oklahoma City) headed West in various trades and thus worsened the imbalance of power between the two conferences.
Add in Chris Paul’s relocation from the Los Angeles Clippers to James Harden’s Houston Rockets and it was enough to make LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers feel even more at ease on their side of the league’s ledger.
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But Hayward to Boston changes everything, with the Celtics primed to push a Cavs team that has reached the Finals in three consecutive Junes since James’ return from Miami.
They earned the No. 1 seed in the East without him, with Isaiah Thomas rising and Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and all the rest finishing 53-29 in the regular season before they fell to the Cavs in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Now enter Hayward, the 27-year-old who posted career highs in scoring and rebounding last season (21.7 points, 5.4 rebounds a game) while playing a pivotal part in the league’s third-ranked defense (based on points allowed per 100 possessions).
The move reunites Hayward with Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who helped take his game to the next level during their two seasons at Butler. And just as his scoring, size and solid defense will boost the Celtics, his departure would be a major loss for a Jazz team that reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Hayward met with the Celtics, the Miami Heat and the Jazz in free agency, with Utah getting his final meeting in San Diego on Monday. The Jazz had positioned themselves to make the most of Hayward’s prime, with big man Rudy Gobert anchoring their defense and recently-acquired point guard Ricky Rubio running the show. ESPN first reported that Hayward intended to sign with the Celtics.