Gordon Hayward announces he will join the Boston Celtics

Gordon Hayward would bring star power to the Boston Celtics. (AP)
Gordon Hayward would bring star power to the Boston Celtics. (AP)

The top available free agent has made his move. After an afternoon of conflicting reports and confusion, Gordon Hayward announced via the Players’ Tribune that he will sign with the Boston Celtics.

ESPN’s Chris Haynes and The Vertical’s Chris Mannix, among others, had reported earlier in the day that Hayward had chosen to join the Celtics. Subsequent reports from both ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and TNT’s David Aldridge, however, suggested that Hayward had not yet reached a decision. Hours later, the 27-year-old forward announced on his own terms that he would be signing with Boston over the Utah Jazz and Miami Heat.

Hayward acknowledged the earlier reports in the Players’ Tribune letter, titled “Thank You, Utah,” and claimed that he saw them before he had made his final decision.

“Today has definitely been one of the craziest days of my life,” he wrote. “But I wanted to make sure that I got this right.

“What’s crazy is — before I even had a chance to make my decision, before I had a chance to sit down and write this, and before I even had a chance to talk about it with the people I love — I was already reading reports about where I was going. And I guess that’s just the way things work, in 2017. But I’m sorry it had to work out like that.

“This was a life-changing decision for me and my family, and something we took really seriously. And from the very start of this process, one thing stood out as important: I knew that I wanted the fans and the organizations to hear my decision directly from me.

“After seven years in Utah, I have decided to join the Boston Celtics.”

Hayward’s contract in Boston will be worth $128 million over four years, according to The Vertical’s Shams Charania, with a player option for the fourth year.

The Celtics will have to make several moves to clear room for Hayward’s maximum salary. They have reportedly already made one of them, renouncing the rights to restricted free agent Kelly Olynyk. Even after renouncing all their free agents, however, the Celtics must move one more salary to pave the way. Small forward Jae Crowder could be the cap casualty. Marcus Smart is another option.

Once Boston frees up the money, Hayward will reunite with Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, for whom he played in college at Butler. In the Players’ Tribune piece, Hayward cited Stevens as a leading reason for his decision:

The last time I had a decision this tough … it was in college, during my sophomore year, after we lost to Duke in the national championship game. I’d gotten on NBA radars as a result of my play that March, and there were projections that I might even be a first-round pick in the draft. And so I had a decision to make: Should I leave my comfort zone at Butler and move on to the NBA? Or should I stay another year, and give it another go, and try to finish what we’d started — try to win a championship?

It was such a tough decision. But there was one person who I knew I could talk to about it from every angle, who I knew would give me the smartest and most honest perspective available: Coach Stevens.

Coach Stevens was so great about it, all of it. He helped me lay out my options, and talked it through from both sides … but in the end, when I needed it, he also gave me my space. And he also let me know that it was my choice to make — and that he would be there for me, on the other side of it, either way. And of course I ended up deciding to leave: I declared for the draft, and got drafted, and started my new NBA life in Utah. But it always meant a lot to me, to know how, in that moment, even with our lives at this strange crossroads together, Coach Stevens was someone I could count on.

And I guess it’s pretty crazy. Because seven years later, I had to make an even tougher decision — and again, Coach Stevens and I found ourselves at a crossroads together. And again, he was the person I knew I could count on the most.

And now I’ve decided to sign with the Boston Celtics.

Hayward wrote about his connection with Stevens, and referenced their run to the 2010 NCAA tournament title game, which they lost in agonizing fashion to Duke. Hayward’s buzzer-beating, potentially championship-winning half-court heave clanked off the backboard, off the rim, and out.

“That unfinished business we had together, back in 2010, when I left Butler for the NBA …” Hayward wrote. “As far as I’m concerned, all of these years later, we still have it:

“And that’s to win a championship.”

The addition of Hayward brings notable star power to a Celtics squad that finished with the best record in the East this regular season. Hayward made his first All-Star team and averaged 21.9 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting in his seventh season with the Jazz. He’s the kind of versatile wing teams covet in this era and contributes in virtually every area of the game.

At the very least, Hayward will take some pressure off Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas and give Stevens more options in the postseason. While this season was a successful one for the Celtics, they were inconsistent throughout the playoffs and looked wildly overmatched in the Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Still, it’s not clear that Hayward gives the Celtics enough to challenge the Cavs in a seven-game series. The difference between the two sides was so stark that it’s hard to imagine anyone but a true superstar changing the overarching terms of the matchup.

For that matter, the addition of Hayward could threaten to upset the development of several of Boston’s top prospects. Crowder has been one of the team’s top two-way players for several seasons, second-year forward Jaylen Brown shows great promise, and No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum is believed by many to have star potential.

Regardless, there’s a reason Hayward was one of the top players in this free agent class. The Celtics needed a big-name move this summer to further challenge the Cavs and take attention away from Ainge’s inability to land an All-Star via trade, and this move certainly accomplishes all those things. The Celtics are better than they were yesterday and managed to do it without digging into their treasure trove of draft assets. It’s a good day to be a Boston fan.

The same cannot be said of anyone hoping for a return to prominence from the Jazz. After four season out of the playoffs, the Jazz won 51 games and reached the conference semifinals this season before suffering a sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. Hayward and center Rudy Gobert were the biggest on-court reasons for that success, and now the former is on his way out of town.

With point guard George Hill headed to the Sacramento Kings, the Jazz will now have to reorganize around Gobert and new addition Ricky Rubio. They will reportedly turn their immediate attention to Otto Porter. But Porter is a restricted free agent, and the Wizards can and likely will match any offer. Utah’s best hope to find another star will be through the draft.

There’s a decent chance the Jazz will fall out of the playoffs again and have to experience another rebuilding period. A franchise on the upswing now must face all-too-familiar challenges.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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