PHOENIX — When Gordon Hayward decided to leave the Jazz and sign with the Celtics in July 2017, he knew the reaction back in Utah would not exactly be great. He had spent his first seven pro seasons there, helped rebuild the franchise, and emerged as an All-Star. And now he was, in all likelihood, forcing them to rebuild.
“I kind of knew they were going to be upset,” Hayward said Thursday before the Celtics defeated the Suns, 116-109, in overtime. “None of it bothered me, except for the people that threw some stuff on fire at our house. That’s not acceptable. But other than that, people have a right to be mad.”
Hayward said he was not home when some fans left his flaming Utah Jazz jersey on his property. But police were called and watched over the house for a short time. Nevertheless, he looks back on his time in Utah fondly, and he said he is looking forward to taking the court there on Friday night, when the Celtics face the Jazz.
“It’ll be a really cool experience,” Hayward said. “I had nothing but great years there in Utah, so it’ll be cool seeing some of the old faces in the arena and some of the old guys.”
Some of the vitriol figures to have subsided by now, of course. Hayward missed almost all of last season because of an ankle injury, so he is now 16 months removed from signing with the Celtics. Also, the Jazz have withstood his departure quite well.
Last season Utah reached the Western Conference semifinals, and they have uncovered a star in second-year guard Donovan Mitchell.
“I think time heals everything,” Hayward said. “And they had a great year last year, so I think it’s just time more than anything. And I think [Mitchell] helped. I think the fact that they had a good year helped. They’ve got a good team.”
Hayward said that his wife, Robyn, is flying to Utah for the game, and even though it will be a brief stay, he is looking forward to reconnecting with some friends there if he is able. In the end, he said, he is proud of what he helped accomplish as a member of the Jazz.
“To go from the bottom where we were losing 20-, 30-point blowout losses, and then we kind of built our team up to that last year where we made a run and won a playoff series,” Hayward said. “That was probably the best part, just the whole progression that we had.”
Hayward, who is still working his way back to full health, said he is planning to play against the Jazz, marking the first time this season he has played in games on back-to-back nights. He played about 25 minutes and scored 8 points against the Suns.
Rozier: I’m happy
When Kyrie Irving and Hayward were re-added to a group that nearly reached the NBA Finals last season, it was obvious that Celtics coach Brad Stevens would face challenges as he tried to distribute playing time among so many capable players.
On Wednesday, The Ringer reported that backup point guard Terry Rozier was unhappy with his playing time, and that many around the league believed Boston would have to trade him.
But on Thursday, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said during his weekly appearance on The Sports Hub that Rozier had not expressed any frustrations about playing time to him, and Rozier later affirmed it.
“What Danny said makes sense, because he knows me,” Rozier said. “If you don’t know me, then you probably think I’d say something like that . . . I’m happy to be in this position where I’m at, to be playing on a team that’s mentioned to have a chance to be in the championship, so I’m not really worried what’s being said. But Danny knows. And that’s why he said what he said.”
After Irving was lost for the season after undergoing knee surgery last March, Rozier stepped in and starred as his replacement, particularly in the playoffs.
But after averaging 36.6 minutes per game in the postseason, Rozier is averaging just 22.7 this season. Rozier acknowledged that it has not been easy, but he also made it clear that he understood the situation.
“I’m not complaining, and if you know me, I would never go to the media or bring out the unhappy thing,” he said. “I would never do that. Like I said, people who know me know I wouldn’t do that. I’ve never been a selfish type of person, selfish player. You can tell the way I play I’m all about team, we, everything. Everything will be all right. It’s not as bad as people make it seem.”
Rozier entered Thursday’s game against the Suns averaging 7.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting just 35.5 percent from the field. He scored 10 points and grabbed 6 rebounds against the Suns in 20:35 minutes. He said that after a practice this week, Stevens talked to him about pressing too much. Stevens, for one, said he is not concerned about Rozier’s play.
“I mean it’s probably the most predictable thing in the world, that a guy that’s going to play a little bit less is, when he gets onto the court, going to try to find spots quickly,” Stevens said. “And that’s one of the great things about Terry. He’s competitive, he’s tough, he wants to impact the game, and sometimes when you’re playing less you figure the best way to do that is be ultra-aggressive right out of the gate instead of letting the game and the easy play come to you. That’s something that’s hard to adjust to and I think anybody would be struggling to adjust to. So I’m not surprised at all that that’s part of it and also one of the reasons why I’m not going to stop playing him the way he’s playing. He’ll get through this and he’ll be great, because of who he is.”