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NBA AM: Pre Free Agency Message to Gordon Hayward

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This is a pre free agency message for Utah Jazz All-Star forward Gordon Hayward. Please see this as a note. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.

As the Golden State Warriors continue to run roughshod through the NBA playoffs and head into Cleveland with a commanding 2-0 Finals lead, the narrative has slowly transitioned to how dominant the team is and whether or not they are the greatest roster to ever be assembled. This is the topic dominating sports talk radio. Vegas odds makers have joined the fray and are releasing spreads that favor the 2016-17 Warriors over historical units that have actually won titles.

This is where we are, and the Warriors haven’t even won a game on the Cavaliers’ home court.

Lots of the talk, of course, is coming from a die-hard fan base and a media full of hyperbole. To some degree, we are all prisoners of the moment. The Warriors are indeed a phenomenal team. These Warriors are absolutely one of the best-constructed teams in recent memory and arguably league history.

But no matter how great the team, competition ultimately balances things out. This is, after all, sports at the highest level. Pride, ego and heart won’t allow guys to roll over and play dead for the Warriors over a long period of time.

There will be obstacles and challenges to overcome—no matter the situation, no matter the circumstance. The 72-win Bulls team from 1996 was pushed to six games in the NBA finals. The 73-win Golden State Warriors team from last season lost in the Finals in seven games after holding a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 series lead.

Competition.

If you listen to all the talking heads right now, it’s as if all other teams in NBA will just roll over and not complete. This is simply not the case. All periods of dominance will ultimately be met with a period of rebellion. Empires fall. No matter the sport, competition eventually steps up to the plate. Sometimes the competition comes from unlikely sources.

Case in point.

When LeBron James was a member of the Miami HEAT, one of his biggest nemeses in the playoffs during that four-year stretch was arguably the overachieving Indiana Pacers. The young upstart Pacers team gave Miami absolute fits every time they met up in the playoffs. The games were competitive, intense and filled with drama. While the Pacers were unable to unseat the HEAT during this time span, their ability to compete proved that all great teams have their own set of flaws.

Eventually, the Warriors will run into a team that matches up well against them, that will drive them batty and cause frustration. This is where we transition this back to Hayward; the Jazz could be the thorn in the Warriors’ side over the next few years.

This is where we transition this back to Hayward; the Jazz could be the thorn in the Warriors’ side over the next few years.

There are a lot of similarities between the early decade Pacers and the current Jazz roster. For starters, look at the point guard position, which is manned by the same floor general: George Hill. The veteran was a member of the Pacers unit that gave Miami the chills in those dramatic playoff series and although Golden State swept Utah out of the playoffs this season, it is important to note that Hill was unavailable due to injury.

Moving on, those Pacers teams also featured a strong frontcourt with Roy Hibbert playing at an All-Star level at center and a power forward with an All-Star game at power forward in David West. Does this sound familiar? The Jazz features a certified Defensive Player of the Year candidate at center in Rudy Gobert and, if fully healthy, power forward Derrick Favors possesses All Star level talent,  similar to an in-prime David West.

On the wing, the Pacers had a rising star in forward Paul George with the ability to put up 25 points on any given night and just barely scratching the surface of his potential. Does this sound familiar to you? This is where Hayward fits into the equation. Hayward proved throughout his playoff career that he’s not going to shy away from big moments. On the bench, the Pacers team had a young Frank Vogel who was held in high regard and the Jazz have an up and coming sideline general in Quin Snyder.

Indiana featured depth on the wings to guard James with players like George and Lance Stephenson. The Jazz have depth on the wings with guys such as Rodney Hood, Alec Burks and Dante Exum.

Make no mistake, trying to wrestle supremacy away from a team like the Warriors is not going to be an easy task, and we are not implying that the current iteration of this Jazz team is going to be the chosen ones to do it. But in the sake of competition, from a purely basketball standpoint, Hayward is in a great position to compete, year-in and year-out in the West. Sure, Hayward can go out East and land on a team like Boston. There is some familiarity there with Brad Stevens, his college coach, sitting on the bench. But in Boston, he arguably goes from the number one option to the number two behind All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas.

The grass isn’t Greener from a legacy standpoint either. Sure, the current talking point is how Durant might be sparking a wave of guys that want to pick their own situations – especially if it results in a fast track to the championship. It’s understandable given the Warriors’ current success, however, guys have been doing this for a long time and it has always been a mixed bag. Just take a look at the career trajectory of guys that opted to take their respective talents elsewhere in free agency: San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Chicago’s Dwyane Wade immediately come to mind with situations that clearly haven’t panned out. For additional examples, you can look at the career trajectory of guys like Deron Williams and Dwight Howard after forcing trades to new situations that were seemingly “better” for title aspirations.

As a free agent to be, Hayward has a right to take his talent anywhere he should choose. Hayward earned this decision to make next month by giving his service, his blood, sweat and tears to the Utah Jazz and developing into a homegrown All-Star level talent.

The grass may be greener, but that doesn’t mean it is healthier on the other side of the fence. The Warriors may be an all-time great team, but it doesn’t mean that greatness is never challenged or overcome. It’s the reason why sports is so loved, because of the intense competition from fearless spirits that overcome the odds. Look at Ken Norton and the trouble he gave Muhammad Ali. Look at Iran Barkley and the ruckus he brought to Thomas Hearns every time they scrapped. Look at the frustration levels the upstart Pacers gave the James, Wade and Chris Bosh led Miami Heat.

Sometimes, greatness forces others to become great and the challengers go down in history for putting up and staging the great fight. The Sacramento Kings of the early 2000s will live on because of the challenge they gave the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and their Los Angeles Lakers. The Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks squads of the early to mid-90s are constantly talked about to this day for the challenges they gave to the Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.

So while it appears Durant was able to choose the perfect situation in free agency and appears to be coasting his way to a title, just remember there will always be a challenger that desires the crown and is willing to fight for the throne. This is Hayward’s chance to put his nose right in the thick of things in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future… provided he jots his signature on a new deal with Utah in just over a month.

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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons