The 2016-17 NBA season has been one loaded with drama and intrigue -- wild new rosters, injuries, epic smack talk on and off the court, ultra all-star performances from around the league. Business as usual in the National Basketball Association. And the Utah Jazz, a team that gloriously defied expectations by advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in seven years, deserves a dedicated chapter in the book of this season, with the bulk of that entry belonging to the greatness of the power-duo of Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert.
And here's the thing: THERE IS SO MUCH MORE THAT THIS TEAM CAN ACHIEVE ... if Hayward stays.
Putting together what was to become an all-star performance and then some, No. 20 once again displayed consistent improvement, a year-to-year feat that shows no sign of slowing anytime soon. The smooth-faced kid become a man, Hayward has developed an impressive competitive mindset and enough of an edge to earn the respect of his fellow players, coaches and owners, and the ever discerning officials. A better handle, matched with patience and a won't-back-down attitude, Hayward has fleshed out his game and put together an incredibly well-rounded example of NBA greatness.
But there is one more thing he's showcasing, something he has earned, something the Utah Jazz have needed. Gordon Hayward has become a leader.
When an NBA organization announces that it has found its poster child, the "face of the franchise" if you will (and you will), one can assume that a strategic plan has been put into place based on a number of contributing factors: Will this player help us win? Does he represent our culture? Will he be as loyal to us as we will be to him? Will he entice other players to come to play here? Gordon Hayward, you are the face of the Utah Jazz. The time is now to fully embrace it.
Your number graces this town on the backs of thousands, where hard-earned money has been spent to boastfully advertise your name. Season tickets purchased with you in mind. There are even children concerned with your health, not just so you can play, but because they care about you! (We've all seen the Instagram post, and you can thank your wife.) You make the team better, significantly, thanks to your skillsets as a player and your leadership, a thorough commanding of the league's best up-and-coming team, perhaps; you're our best fighter and it's made known that we all believe it.
This city and state have faith in you, believe in your abilities and in who you are off the court. Your mistakes and relatively few shortcomings wash off our collective backs because we know you're human, and you mean more to us as a player and a person than most players might mean to their respective cities. Here, you're more than Gordon Hayward, one-time All-Star. In Utah, you're an All-Star every second of every day, in the eyes of those who can't wait for every tip-off.
You're partnered up with the league's premier defender, an elite talent and stellar example of competitive fire that burns likewise within you. We can feel the heat from here, man! Don't abandon the gift you've been given, my friend. Rudy and the rest have your back, so please have theirs. With the multi-nicknamed Goliath in the center, and (at least) capable talent developing all around you, a dash of veteran presence to boot, you're set up to succeed. The tremendous coaching staff and unparalleled ownership and management are proud to hoist you aloft on their shoulders. Continue to be the humble man you are and graciously accept such an honor.
This year, a fantastic journey worth every single moment of pain and upset, is but the beginning, an eagle emerging from its shell. In the years to come you will hunt, soar and rule ... if you stay in Utah.
Now, I can't guarantee these stats, nor can I confirm where I found them, but I'm 100 percent PRETTY SURE they are true:
-- In Boston, 74 percent of people named Gordon suffer from chronic IBS and will as long as they work in the city.
-- In Miami, there are literally billions of venomous snakes, and some of them can dribble a ball ... yikes.
-- Indiana has started to require former residents to get large tattoos of Gene Hackman's face, if said former residents move back; please don't get a Gene Hackman tattoo, Gordon.
-- Every other NBA team now demands players wear Lady Speed Stick at all times; YOU CAN'T SUBJECT YOURSELF TO LADY SPEED STICK, DUDE!
You now have IRONCLAD reasons not to go to any of those places to play ball (unless you're in a Jazz uniform). But none of the good or bad found in MA, FL, IN, or anywhere else compares to all of the overwhelming good flowing all around you in UT. You might get food poisoning here from time to time, but out there you'll (definitely) get bit by a gator, (forever) lost in a billion acres of corn, or (constantly) sucker punched by an angry ginger with a funny accent. Also, those other places are haunted. Or something.
No one will ever fault you for chasing a dream of the finger weight or that glorious trophy that so relative few ever seem to earn and possess. You'll still be loved if you leave. In SLC, there's a statue of Karl Malone, a run-to-the-coast fella whose desire to reach the top removed him from the place he knew as his professional home, and we all still very much look to the man as an invaluable icon that belongs to our fair city.
But if you want to become the thing of legends, if you want to be more than a guy on a team that wins the championship, if you want to be the leader, if you want to be forever remembered as one of the Salt City's greatest heroes, if you want to be that third statue ...
You belong here, Gordon Hayward. You'll succeed anywhere in this league to some extent -- you're that good -- but you'll thrive here. You'll win here. You'll be bronzed here.
This is your Utah Jazz, #20. The rest of the team ebbs and flows with you, and as great as each of them may be, you are the keystone that will keep the bridge standing strong.
Also, all the girls think you're hot. Don't leave it up to Neto to hold that burden himself, bro. Stick around. If not for the game, do it for the ladies.