By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Gordon Hayward may be the key player for the Celtics over the next four seasons. But an ex-teammate is claiming Hayward wants to be just another guy.
A strangely bitter new story by the Salt Lake Tribune’s Tony Jones and Aaron Falk goes into detail about each of Hayward’s free-agent meetings with the Celtics, Jazz, and Heat, and his ultimate decision to join the C’s.
The kicker, the headline-grabber of the story, was a medium-sized bomb lobbed by Hayward’s ex-Jazz teammate Trevor Booker. The big man believes Hayward left the Jazz, where the two played together from 2014-16, because Hayward didn’t want to be the franchise player that the team built around and depended on to succeed.
“Gordon’s a guy who doesn’t really want to be the man,” said Booker. “I’m not sure he wanted a franchise on his shoulders. Gordon’s a great player, and one of the best players in the league. But I wasn’t really surprised at his choice. I heard the rumors.”
Beyond Booker’s sneaky-harsh comments, the story is peppered with passages that paint a picture of a player who had everything handed to him, only to pull the rug out from under the team in the end.
The Jazz acquired point guard Ricky Rubio, whom the story described as an ideal fit for the team, as a means of enticing Hayward to re-sign. The decision to extend bench player Joe Ingles, who had “forged a close bond” with Hayward over the years, was described as a “thunderbolt.”
The story says the Jazz gave Hayward “seemingly just about everything he could ask for from a roster.”
Recounting Hayward’s meeting with the Celtics, sources told the Salt Lake Tribune that Danny Ainge emphasized that the Eastern Conference presents a markedly easier path to the NBA Finals than the Western Conference. The story used this detail to infer that Hayward took the easy way out by fleeing the west. Surely his decision had nothing to do with the Celtics being by far the better, deeper team, regardless of conference.
The Salt Lake Tribune story is just bizarre in its bitterness, seemingly the product of a team and market that doesn’t know how to handle a franchise star skipping town. It’s ultra-rare that a player spends his entire career with the same team these days, so it really should not have shocked them as much as it appears to have done.
The media out there is also delusional if they really believed that guys like Rubio and Ingles would actually have that much of an impact on Hayward’s decision. His longtime bond with Brad Stevens easily trumped both of them. That also sounds crazy, but in retrospect it’s the obvious truth.
It remains to be seen how accurate Booker’s comments are. But at the end of the day, Hayward picked the most talented squad of the three and the team with the best chance to win a championship. As the Celtics’ new highest-paid player and a guy who’s expected to be a go-to scorer, Hayward has to know that he will be “the man” at some point.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at email@example.com.