As expected, Gordon Hayward made his highly anticipated free agency decision on July 4th. However, while many believed he would return to the Utah Jazz – where he developed into an All-Star and led the franchise back to the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2009-10 – he announced his decision to join the Boston Celtics with a 2,142 word article on The Players' Tribune. According to Shams Charania of Yahoo! Sports, Hayward will sign a four year deal with the Celtics worth a total of $128 million with a player option included.
The announcement didn't come without some controversy. ESPN's Chris Haynes was the first to spread word that Hayward planned to sign with the Celtics with a tweet at 2:17 PM EST on Tuesday. His report was quickly shot down by Hayward's agent, though, who told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski 15 minutes later that Hayward hadn't made a decision and that they were "still working through it." Then came the reports that Hayward was upset and "re-evaluating everything" – Hayward had reportedly changed his mind four times in four days – before he shared his Players' Tribune article at 7:48 PM EST titled, "Thank You, Utah."
The reaction was swift. Jazz fans burned Hayward's old jersey, while former Jazz players mocked the franchise for losing its star player, and current ones threw Twitter shade at their former teammate for leaving.
It's understandable that Jazz fans and players are upset with Hayward's decision. After rebuilding for several seasons, they finally broke through in 2016-17 with 51 wins and the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Even with injuries to Rudy Gobert, George Hill, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks throughout the regular season and playoffs, they took down the Los Angeles Clippers in a hard-fought opening round series before getting swept by the Golden State Warriors in the next round. The Jazz had some big decisions to make this offseason with Hayward and Hill entering free agency, but their best days were almost certainly ahead of them as long as Hayward returned.
On the other side of the coin, it also makes sense that Hayward would choose the Celtics over the Jazz at this stage of his career. Beyond the obvious of having an opportunity to play for his former college coach Brad Stevens, Hayward is joining a team fresh off of 53 wins and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. It remains to be seen how he fits in with a ball-dominant player like Isaiah Thomas, yet he has all the tools to complement him and help the Celtics improve in ways that could close the gap between them and the Cleveland Cavaliers.