As the clock began to wind down in Game 4 between the Utah Jazz and the Golden State Warriors, and it became apparent that the Jazz’s Cinderella season would be coming to a close, fans rose to their feet and cheered for their leader and the face of the team, Gordon Hayward.
It could be the last time that Utah fans see Hayward in a Jazz uniform. Hayward, whom the Jazz drafted out of Butler with the ninth overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, can become a free agent this summer by choosing not to exercise the $16.7 million player option he holds for next season. If he reaches the open market, the All-Star will likely have multiple suitors willing to offer him a maximum-salaried contract.
The Jazz fans want him back, and so they whooped and hollered Hayward’s name as he headed to the bench. They continued to chant even after the final buzzer sounded and the Jazz’s fate of being swept by the Warriors was sealed.
Clearly, Jazz supporters are loyal and they hope that he will return to their squad next season. One fan even organized a crowd-funded billboard encouraging Hayward to stay in Utah as a way to “show Gordon how much he means to this city and this fan base.”
While erecting billboards to try to convince players has failed in the past, Jazz fans could have some hope this time. It’s likely that Hayward will opt out of his contract so that he can get paid maximum money, but the Jazz can offer Hayward five years of big bucks while other teams only would be able to offer him a four-year deal. So financially, it would make sense for him to come back.
Another big factor in Hayward’s decision could be where he sees the greatest potential to win a championship. Utah is up-and-coming, but they aren’t ready to party with the big dogs yet, as evidenced by their series against the Warriors. They are still a few pieces away from being able to compete with Golden State and the other teams in the West’s top tier.
Utah Jazz fans chant future free agent Gordon Hayward's name after Warriors sweep the Jazz pic.twitter.com/0c0hsc3ARa
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 9, 2017
Still, it seems that no other fans will love Hayward the way Salt Lake City residents do. They stuck around to get high fives from Hayward as he walked off the court and into the tunnel back to the locker room, hoping that it wasn’t the last time that they would be seeing him play at Vivint Smart Home Arena in the home team’s uniform.