This year’s Independence Day will be more enjoyable for me than last year’s. It should be that way for most Utah Jazz fans.
I’m going to spend a day at the lake, watch a firework show in my hometown, eat barbecue ribs and try to get my name back on the annual family cornhole tournament trophy.
I do that stuff every year. I did it last year, too, but interrupting each activity was the latest rumor or another conversation about whether or not Gordon Hayward would be leaving Utah. It was the talk of the state that day, and for good reason.
The Jazz had just been to the playoffs for the first time in four years and had made it to the second round for the first time since 2010. The long, painful rebuild was over. Utah was a good basketball team again and it was largely thanks to Mr. Hayward. If he were to leave, most feared, it would be a devastating step back. The rebuild would have to start again. The 2017 playoff trip would likely end up being an exception in a long run of otherwise lottery teams.
Hayward was the guy the organization invested in. He was drafted by the Jazz, developed by the Jazz and was the team’s All Star. His jersey would one day hang in the rafters alongside Malone, Stockton, Eaton, Hornacek and Maravich.
I let him ruin my Fourth of July for nothing.
Hayward left for Boston, and he didn’t seem to know just how to rip the Band-Aid off. He kept everybody waiting. Whether or not you like the decision LeBron James just announced Sunday, at least he didn’t keep everyone waiting and watching in the middle of a national holiday.
If you need a refresher about how last year’s lengthy, painful, back-and-forth Independence Day breakup went down, here is part of it:
12:17 p.m. – ESPN’s Chris Haynes reports that Gordon Hayward plans to leave Utah and sign with the Boston Celtics.
12:27 p.m. – ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Jazz haven’t heard anything regarding Hayward, which could possibly mean the former report was nothing but a rumor.
12:32 p.m. – Wojnarowksi follows up his tweet saying that Hayward hasn’t made a decision yet, using Hayward’s agent Mark Bartelstein as his source, giving Jazz fans renewed hope.
1:02 p.m. – Jazz President Steve Starks tweets that he “trusts Gordon and his agent that no decision has been made.”
After more than four more hours of uncertainty, the news broke.
5:48 p.m. – Hayward tweets a link to his Players’ Tribune article titled “Thank You, Utah” and officially announces he is headed to Boston.
The holiday was tainted with the news. I went to Hyrum to watch the fireworks show and overheard multiple conversations about the decision. People I had never met shared their disappointment with me. Feelings of anger, sadness and denial swept the state. We couldn’t see it then, but we all know now it worked out for the better.
If Hayward was the Benedict Arnold of last year’s Independence Day, Donovan Mitchell is the George Washington, leading an underdog group across the Delaware to catch the Hessian forces off guard. He reversed an almost-certain downward trajectory and restored hope to all of us who got to witness it.
Utah got a rookie who is now a legitimate NBA star, isn’t shy about his love for Salt Lake City, has already put up 40-plus in a game, won the dunk contest and took the team back into the second round of the playoffs. There was no rebuild. There was no start again. There was hardly a step back. Instead, there is a brighter future than what Hayward could have provided.
Given the circumstances, can you realistically think of a better outcome than what happened?
There will more-than-likely be free agency movement that affects the team one way or another on Wednesday, but thanks to Mitchell, the foundation for Jazz basketball is as good as it has been in a long time.
I won’t need to watch Twitter for the latest rumors and most of my conversations won’t be centered on a basketball player. I’m going to celebrate the birth of this country the way I like to: with pie, parades and pyrotechnics.