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Gordon Hayward’s free agency will be story of Jazz offseason

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) All Gordon Hayward could do was smile as he fielded question after question Tuesday about his expected free agency.

It signaled the beginning of the Jazz offseason, where Hayward’s decision could have the biggest impact on Utah’s future since All-Stars Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams changed teams within an eight-month span in 2010-11.

“These opportunities don’t come around very much,” Hayward said. “That’s why you hire an agent, to deal with this type of stuff. I’m sure he’s going to go through all of the options for me, let me know what can happen. I know there’s a lot of stuff that can definitely go down. So, once I sit down and talk with him, we’ll move forward from there.”

Hayward has a player option for next season on the contract he signed in 2014 but is expected to forgo that and become an unrestricted free agent. He’s likely to receive a maximum contract wherever he signs, and the Celtics are rumored to be in the mix with his college coach Brad Stevens now leading the East’s No. 1 playoff seed.

The first-time All-Star had a career year, averaging 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists and leading the Jazz to the second round of the playoffs. The franchise hadn’t qualified for the postseason since 2012 and hadn’t won a playoff game since 2010.

Winning is a top priority for the seven-year veteran and the Jazz still have a young core highlighted by defensive player of the year candidate Rudy Gobert.

“Coming from that little scrawny, shaggy-haired kid that wasn’t really playing (and grew) into an All-Star,” Jazz forward Joe Ingles said. “I truly believe he really likes it here. He loves the organization and the team. At the end of the day, for him, it’s about winning. … Obviously, the organization is committed to that. The next step is getting that team around him.”

General manager Dennis Lindsey has work to do to continue to build that winner. The Jazz took a huge step when he traded for George Hill and Boris Diaw and signed Joe Johnson last summer.

Hill averaged a career-high 16.9 points and shot 40.3 percent from 3-point range and gave the team the point guard it had been missing. But Hill will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Additionally, Ingles will be a restricted free agent and is expected to be courted after his career-high 44.1 3-point percentage ranked No. 3 in the NBA and after showing versatility in the playoffs.

Hill called Hayward his little brother and said the two will be in constant contact throughout the process because Hayward’s decision will influence his.

“I have a son, so that’s my first responsibility,” Hill said. “Taking care of my son and fianc�e, making sure everything is fine with them. I love to win. I love good teammates and solid locker room guys. All those things will be into play. … Where can I help the most?”

Team President Steve Starks said the Jazz will remain aggressive in improving the team.

“We want to build on the successes of this year,” Starks said. “We’ve put ourselves in position to be aggressive and be attractive for any player that’s a free agent. We’ll be aggressive first retaining our core guys and that starts with Gordon Hayward.”

The Jazz were the No. 1 defensive team during the regular season and upset the Clippers in seven games as the No. 5 seed. They were overwhelmed in Round 2 by the Golden State Warriors, who beat the Jazz on Monday night to complete a four-game sweep.

Utah could use more offense next season, whether that comes from the growth of Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Dante Exum or from new acquisitions. Either way, the Jazz would love to stay healthy after being ravaged by injuries the last two seasons.

Coach Quin Snyder declined to list specific needs, saying those can evolve through development over the summer, self-scouting and depending on what the roster dictates.

“There’s uncertainty,” Snyder said. “It’s almost like those questions will be better answered then.”

Johnson’s already lobbying guys to stay.

“The sky’s the limit for us,” Johnson said. “Just out of one year together, we had a pretty good season. I hope whatever has to happen happens for those guys to come back.”

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.