To Be a Legend or a Champion
It's July 1st 2016.
DeMar DeRozan is coming off a career year, after his seventh season in the NBA, averaging 23.5 points and 4.5 rebounds a game. The Toronto Raptors franchise made a deep run into the playoffs before being defeated by the 2015-2016 NBA Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
DeRozan’s future with the Raptors was unclear. Long before the season ended, the Los Angeles native had experts suggesting that the All-Star shooting guard could take his talents home to play for the L.A. Lakers, but joining his hometown Lakers was not in the cards.
In an interview regarding his choice, DeRozan told the Los Angeles Daily News, “When you have an opportunity to go home, that’s something that certainly would cross your mind … But I just wanted to do something special and leave a legacy of my own in Toronto.”
On the opening night of free agency DeRozan re-signed with the Raptors.
DeRozan pointed to Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan as models for how he hopes his career to unfold. In an interview with The Undefeated DeRozan explained, “I want to be that guy that you look up and he played for one jersey … and realize that at the end of my career I can potentially play for one organization.”
Fast forward to July 4th 2017.
Gordon Hayward is coming off a career year after his seventh season in the NBA averaging 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds a game. The Utah Jazz franchise made a deep run into the playoffs before being knocked out by the 2016-2017 NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors.
Media and fans were speculating about Hayward’s future with the Jazz long before free agency started. Thoughts were that the former Butler Bulldog could take his talents to Boston to be reunited with his college coach Brad Stevens, leaving the Jazz without their franchise All-Star small forward.
Midday July 4th, after meetings with the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, and Utah Jazz in the previous week, supposedly false reports surfaced that Hayward had chosen to leave Utah and head east to play for the Celtics. However, Hayward’s agent told the media that Gordon was still making his decision. Four hours later, Hayward’s article on The Players Tribune broke, confirming previous speculation that he was indeed headed to Boston.
In his article, he states his reasons for leaving the Utah Jazz: “There were so many great things pulling me in that direction. There was the winning culture of Boston, as a city – from the Sox, to the Pats, to the Bruins … a talented roster with Isaiah, and Al, and everyone else. And of course, there was Coach Stevens … And that unfinished business we had together, back in 2010, when I left Butler for the NBA … as far as I’m concerned, all of these years later, we still have it: And that’s to win a championship.”
After signing with the Celtics, Hayward was to the point when asked about winning a title with his new squad, “That’s our goal,” he said, “That’s something that I’m working right now so I can be a better player to help the Boston Celtics get that accomplished.”
Two Players – Two Personalities
The parallels between Hayward and DeRozan’s situations are strikingly similar, and their differing decisions highlight two distinct personalities and sets of goals. For Hayward, it was about going where he thought he had the best chance of winning. For DeRozan, it was about Showing loyalty to and achieving a legacy of greatness with the franchise that drafted him seven years earlier.
Perhaps this makes DeRozan, in a Kevin Durant era, something of a throwback to a time in the NBA when players like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson never left for another team, or rather perhaps it highlights the differences in how each player perceives himself inside a franchise.
It is obvious by DeRozan’s comments that he believes that he can be every bit as great as his idol Kobe Bryant and cement himself as the greatest Raptor ever. In contrast, it is possible that Hayward while an excellent player in the league, feels that he was not going to cement a legacy as an all-time great of the game by staying put in Utah. If this is the case, he might have decided that he is better off chasing his best chance at a championship, rather than being commemorated with a statue in the shadows of former Jazzmen and hall-of-fame greats John Stockton and Karl Malone, something that may never have happened.
Trevor Booker, a former teammate of Hayward’s for two seasons, wasn’t surprised that he left Utah to go to a team where he will be the second or third option. Of Hayward’s choice, he said, “Gordon’s a guy who doesn’t really want to be the man.”
If Booker is right, and Gordon Hayward does not see himself as a franchise player for a team, it makes sense for him to leave Utah. It makes sense for him to go to a place like Boston where the team’s prestige and legacy will bring in superstar talent for him to play alongside for years to come. Whether Hayward’s plan works remains to be seen, but if what we have come to realize over the past few weeks is true, it’s clear that, in his eyes, Boston gives him the best chance at winning, and Hayward wants to win, even if it means leaving a legacy in Utah behind.
What would you chase?