Joe Ingles

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Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+

Report: Jazz waiving Boris Diaw

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The Jazz were good for Gordon Hayward. He decided another team would be better for him going forward.

Boris Diaw was good for the Jazz. They decided another player would be better for them going forward.

Following Utah’s emotional reaction to Hayward leaving for the Celtics, the Jazz are back to the cold business decisions teams and players make all the time.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Utah’s recent additions of Thabo Sefolosha and Jonas Jerebko – whose salaries combined exceed the mid-level exception and individually surpassed the bi-annual exception – necessitated dumping Diaw. Diaw’s $7.5 million salary is fully unguaranteed and becomes fully guaranteed Saturday. The Jazz could always trade him if a deal presents itself before Saturday, but this report suggests they’ve already canvassed and found no takers.

Utah has plenty of options to take Diaw’s minutes, in big or small lineups: Derrick Favors, Jonas Jerebko, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Ekpe Udoh. None possess Diaw’s playmaking ability, but Ricky Rubio‘s talent as a singular distributor make that less of a concern.

The 35-year-old Diaw has shown significant signs of decline, but he has so much basketball intelligence and is so well-liked, he’ll likely land with a contender.

Report: Jazz signing Jonas Jerebko to two-year, $8.2 million contract

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The Jazz have avenged the Celtics poaching Gordon Hayward.

Utah is signing Jonas Jerebko, who spent the last few years in Boston.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

When the Jazz agreed to terms with Thabo Sefolosha earlier today, it was unclear whether they’d sign him with the mid-level exception or clear cap room for him. This suggests they’ll waive Boris Diaw, whose $7.5 million salary is fully unguaranteed and becomes fully guaranteed Saturday,* to create cap space. Jerebko wouldn’t fit into the remainder of the mid-level exception or bi-annual exception.

*Utah could also clear space by trading someone, including Diaw. Waiving him is the simplest, and therefor most likely, outcome.

Jerebko would fit into the room exception, allowing the Jazz to use the rest of their cap space before finalizing his deal. If they also delay making Joe Inglescontract official – his cap hold is low, and they have his Bird Rights – they’d have a little less than $3 million available.

I’m not sure how far that money would go for Utah, which was already pretty deep even before adding Jerebko.

The 30-year-old Jerebko has seemed to figure out that his place in the league is as a hustle player who makes 3-pointers, not as the scorer he flirted with trying to become. As long as he maintains that mindset, he should be helpful as a combo forward.

Derrick Favors is better than Jerebko, but considering the tough fit with Rudy Gobert, Jerebko might even start at power forward. Though injuries factored, Diaw held down that role late last season for similar reason. Jerebko isn’t nearly the distributor Diaw is, but Utah has less use for frontcourt playmaking with Ricky Rubio. Jerebko’s floor-spacing could be sufficient, even if Joe Johnson takes over to close games.

Boston had to renounce Jerebko to clear room for Hayward. Though Jerebko had some nice moments there, I’m sure the Celtics are just fine with the de facto swap.

Report: Jazz signing Thabo Sefolosha to two-year $10.5 million contract

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The Jazz lost their biggest star in Gordon Hayward, but they’re not slipping quietly into irrelevancy.

To help remain competitive for the playoffs, Utah filling its small forward hole with Thabo Sefolosha.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This would fit into the taxpayer mid-level exception. The Jazz could also waive Boris Diaw or Raul Neto to fit Sefolosha into cap space and use the room exception on someone else. Utah appears far enough below the apron to use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, but this leaves more options open (signing someone else with the remaining portion of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, acquiring a player in a sign-and-trade, eventually exceeding the apron).

Likewise, the Jazz will have plenty of options on the court at wing. Rodney Hood and Alec Burks should be healthier. Rookie Donovan Mitchell has impressed in summer league. Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson will receive playing time at both forward positions.

The 33-year-old Sefolosha is past his peak, but he remains a helpful 3-and-D contributor. He’ll fit well in Utah with his high basketball intelligence.

Atlanta already moved the younger Taurean Prince ahead of him. This is another opportunity to remember the Hawks probably should have traded Sefolosha (and Paul Millsap) last year and gotten something for them. But even without a head start in accumulating assets, Atlanta is still moving further into rebuilding now.

A look inside the process that sent Gordon Hayward to Boston

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Ricky Rubio flew halfway around the world to help Utah make its sales pitch. Miami had the red carpet rolled out, with plenty of staff and players around to do some wooing.

The Jazz and Heat made Gordon Hayward waver.

But Brad Stevens won the Hayward recruiting battle – again.

In 2007, Stevens talked Hayward into signing a letter of intent to play college basketball at Butler. A decade later, Stevens talked Hayward into taking a four-year, $128 million contract to join a Boston Celtics team that went to the Eastern Conference finals last season and thinks it should be better now for years to come.

So Stevens and Hayward reunite, coach and player, after their two seasons at Butler nearly delivered an NCAA title.

“This has been the toughest decision that I’ve ever had to make in my life,” Hayward wrote in his post on The Players’ Tribune announcing his decision on Tuesday night.

The Celtics took Hayward to Fenway Park on Sunday and talked to him about both the past and the future, Boston’s legacy in sports, the magical years led by Bill Russell and Larry Bird and Paul Pierce, and belief that a young core led by Isaiah Thomas is only going to keep getting better. The Red Sox were playing on the road that day, yet whatever Hayward felt visiting that baseball shrine clearly resonated.

And it should be noted that in a city that worships Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Hayward is on record saying he’s not a fan.

Maybe in time, that’ll change.

“There were so many great things pulling me in that direction,” Hayward wrote. “There was the winning culture of Boston, as a city – from the Sox, to the Pats, to the Bruins.”

Hayward’s three-day whirlwind tour started in Miami on Saturday, a day filled with players-only meetings in the lounge off the Heat locker room, examples of how players’ families – especially their kids – have their needs accommodated on game nights, even some discussions about the Miami real estate market.

Some chatted about tennis, a sport Hayward loves and one that gets plenty of attention in South Florida each spring when the Miami Open brings the world’s best players to Key Biscayne. And team president Pat Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra and others showed Hayward what they were thinking of what the 2017-18 Heat would look like with a new All-Star small forward.

Next came the trip to Boston, and then finally a flight back to San Diego for a meeting with a Jazz contingent that included owner Gail Miller, team president Steve Starks, GM Dennis Lindsey and coach Quin Snyder. They pitched Hayward on how they made moves via trade and free agency to surround him with the best possible mix of talent that would put the Jazz in position to contend in the powerful Western Conference for years to come.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Jazz surprised Hayward with a visit from teammates Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles and Rubio – the newly acquired guard that Hayward has raved about for some time and who flew in from Spain just for the meeting with hopes that it would be a splash. Much like in Miami, the players met with Hayward privately to talk about what the Jazz could be like going forward.

“My meetings with all three teams during this process – Miami, Boston and Utah – were just unbelievable,” Hayward said. “They couldn’t have been more impressive. Each meeting left me convinced that the team I’d just met with was the right fit. ”

He found Butler to be the right fit in 2007.

He found Boston to be the right fit in 2017.

Those briefed on the Heat and Jazz meetings said both teams left feeling they made extremely strong cases. In the end, Hayward’s history with Stevens seemed to win out.

“Again, Coach Stevens and I found ourselves at a crossroads together,” Hayward wrote. “And again, he was the person I knew I could count on the most.”