In his seven seasons with the Utah Jazz, Gordon Hayward has steadily grown from intriguing spot-starting swingman into one of the NBA’s best players. He’s increased his per-game scoring average year after year after year, developing into the No. 1 offensive option (and, often, lead ball-handler and playmaker) on a Jazz team that will return to the postseason for the first time since 2012, could win 50 games for the first time since 2010, and might have the size, depth, balance and versatility to make some real noise in the Western Conference playoffs.
Jazz fans have watched Hayward blossom from a reedy 20-year-old fresh off a Cinderella run to the national championship game with Butler into a full-fledged All-Star whose per-game production puts him on the fringes of a conversation that includes the likes of James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Those fans don’t want to see their franchise’s core star — well, one of them, anyway — leave town this summer, when Hayward can opt out of the final year of his contract to enter unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. (He reached the restricted free-agent market in 2014 and received a four-year maximum-salaried contract offer sheet from the Charlotte Hornets, which the Jazz matched, in what turned out to be a pretty darn good decision by Utah’s powers-that-be.)
And so …
— Stayward (@UtahJazz6Man) April 5, 2017
… we got ourselves a crowd-funded billboard, y’all.
Garrett Jones launched his campaign on Tuesday, calling on his fellow Jazz fans to help him “show Gordon how much he means to this city and fan base” with a very, very large token of their appreciation:
There is a billboard between the practice facility and the Vivint Smart Home Arena that we can rent for the entire month of May, which is perfect as the season will be winding down and free agency will be close to starting. I’ve been in contact with Yesco because this is a perfect location and time frame, but it is on a first come, first serve basis, so we need to act fast.
If 1/3 of the fans who attend a single game donate one dollar, we’d hit our goal. We can do this Jazz fans, let’s do what we can to keep Hayward in Utah.
Jones aims to raise $5,000 to rent the space for the billboard. As of 3:55 p.m. ET on Wednesday, he’s already raised $1,425 on 144 donations.
Erecting billboards to try to convince players and executives to take certain actions isn’t anything new. Past efforts have shown the practice’s efficacy to be, well, iffy, at best.
In the summer of 2000, the Orlando Magic greeted 24-year-old rising legend Tim Duncan with “a billboard of himself and [Grant] Hill in Magic uniforms with the tagline of ‘Imagine’ and a banner that read: ‘Grant Us Tim.'” Despite that, and ancillary recruitment by Tiger Woods and Julius Erving, Duncan stayed with the San Antonio Spurs.
In 2011, Orlando Magic fans used a billboard to try to push their front office to move heaven and earth to import Chris Paul to run point alongside Dwight Howard. That didn’t work, as Paul was shipped first to the Los Angeles Lakers and then, after “basketball reasons,” to the Los Angeles Clippers.
In 2013, the Los Angeles Lakers tried to convince Howard to stick around with “STAY.” billboards. That didn’t work, as Dwight famously chose to take his talents to Houston. And, most recently, Oklahoma City Thunder fans rented billboards to try to convince free-agent-to-be Kevin Durant to stay put. That, again, didn’t work.
Lakers fans, however, did meet with success in their advertising attempt to keep Nick Young in town the following summer, though it’s impossible to tell whether Swaggy P was swayed more by the billboards or the four-year, $21.5 million contract it seemed unlikely he’d get anywhere else.
Should he decide to opt out and hit the open market, Hayward will surely receive multiple max contract offers from teams eager to add such a versatile, talented and efficient weapon on the wing. Teams like the Boston Celtics, helmed by Hayward’s old Butler coach, Brad Stevens, and the Miami Heat have already been rumored to have interest in his services. The Jazz hold Hayward’s Bird rights, which would allow Utah to offer Hayward a contract that is one year longer (five, rather than four) and that includes higher year-over-year raises (7.5 percent, rather than 4.5 percent) than any non-incumbent team. (In all likelihood, as detailed by salary cap guru Albert Nahmad, the only way Hayward doesn’t opt out is if he makes an All-NBA team this year, which would allow him to lock in a five-year, $219.2 million super-max deal under the new Designated Player Exception in the new collective bargaining agreement.)
It’s most likely that Hayward’s decision will be influenced more by the combination of the financial factors at play and how much he believes that a Jazz team with multiple other roster-management decisions to make — point guard George Hill hits unrestricted free agency this summer, too; power forward Derrick Favors will get there next summer; shooting guard Rodney Hood’s eligible for an extension of his rookie contract before Oct. 31 — can really compete for a championship. Still, the gesture’s kind of neat on its own merits, even if it’s not the first time Hayward’s been immortalized off the interstate:
— Jody Genessy (@DJJazzyJody) October 24, 2014
… or even the first time this season:
Hayward and Gobert are featured on some billboards around town as part of the Jazz’s efforts to entice local fans to vote for their potential All-Stars.
“It’s always fun to see yourself on a billboard, for sure,” Gobert said. […]
“I really appreciate what the Jazz have done for me to try to advertise,” [Hayward] said, “and to try to get me into the All-Star Game.”
Although, for what it’s worth, Hayward doesn’t seem super comfortable seeing himself all blown up like that. From 2014:
“That’s sweet,” Hayward told the Deseret News. “It’s always cool to see yourself on a billboard. It’s a pretty cool feeling.”
He laughed and admitted, “It’s weird.”
… and from January:
It’s still bizarre for [Hayward] to see larger-than-life versions of himself plastered around town, but not as odd as it used to be when he came to Salt Lake City as a 20-year-old out of Butler in 2010. It caught him off guard to see himself with his teammates on a billboard the first time.
“It’s definitely weird to see yourself.”
If Jones and his likeminded supporters have their way, Hayward will be seeing himself that way throughout Utah’s postseason run, and thinking of them — and staying in Salt Lake City — every time he does.
On a perhaps-related note, Hayward took to social media on Wednesday to ask fans and followers for to help one of his former college teammates, Erik Fromm, in his attempt to raise $100,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in honor of his father, Leonard, and former Bulldog Andrew Smith, who died from cancer in 2016. So, if you’re a Jazz fan thinking of throwing a few bucks behind the billboard campaign and you can spare the bread, it might be worth thinking about diverting some funds in that direction. Seems like Hayward might appreciate that at least as much as seeing a gigantic likeness of himself.
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