Published in the July 19, 2017 edition

Last Friday was an exciting day for Boston sports fans as former Utah Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward officially signed a four-year contract to bring his talents to the Boston Celtics.
The signing came 10 days after Hayward announced that he had accepted the Celtics’ offer and agreed to leave Utah. Hayward is joining a team that earned the No. 1 seed in the East last season and reached the conference finals.
Hayward’s decision to leave Utah for Boston reunites the All-Star with Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. Stevens was just a week or so into his new job as Butler head coach when Hayward was his first recruit to visit.
There was an “immediate familiarity” when the Celtics pitched Hayward on the team, he said in a conference call with reporters after signing his four-year deal worth about $128 million. “It brought back memories of when I was being recruited in high school by Coach Brad. This time it’s at the next level.”
One of the most coveted free agents of the offseason, the Celtics lured Hayward from the Jazz with a max contract and the chance to rejoin his college coach. At Butler, Stevens and Hayward were together for the first of the Bulldogs’ back-to-back NCAA championship game appearances in 2010.
“It’s really an unbelievable thing to be sitting with a guy in your office when he’s 16 or 17 years old, and to again be sitting with him when he’s 27,” Stevens said.
The Celtics needed to clear salary cap space to make room for Hayward, which they accomplished by trading guard Avery Bradley to Detroit and then waiving forward Jordan Mickey early Friday.
“It’s been a long 10 days, hasn’t it?” Celtics basketball boss Danny Ainge said.
Stevens said his pitch to Hayward, an All-Star last season for the Jazz who averaged 21.9 points, was more about the future than the past.
“I talked about why this transition was so great for me and my family, and also how hard it was to initially make the transition,” Stevens said. “I tried to keep it much more focused on the now than our relationship 10 years ago.”
It’s the second straight summer the Celtics have landed a big free agent. Last year, they brought in Al Horford and made a pitch to Kevin Durant as well. That helped them reach the Eastern Conference finals where Cleveland eliminated them in five games.
The Celtics also had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, which they traded for the third pick — Duke forward Jayson Tatum — and another first-rounder, likely next year.
“I feel like our team is in a better position than last year,” Ainge said.
We agree. The Celtics have not a versatile small forward since Celtics legend Paul Pierce was traded to the Brooklyn Nets four years ago. Landing Hayward is not only a coup for the Celtics, but for the Eastern Conference as a whole. This summer has seen West teams load up to try to defeat the defending champion Golden State Warriors, and the vast majority of high-profile roster moves have occurred in the East.
Hayward will wear the same No. 20 he wore at Butler and Utah. It was last worn in Boston by Ray Allen during the New Big Three era that helped the franchise win its unprecedented 17th NBA title.
“The last seven years playing for the Jazz was something that I’ll never forget. I want to thank them for everything they gave me,” Hayward said. “There was just something different about Boston, different about being a Celtic, a different feeling about being a Boston Celtics, that won me over.”
Boston has incredibly passionate sports fans who have been clamoring for the Celtics to do something big since Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded four years ago. With a strong nucleus consisting of Hayward, Horford and All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics certainly have a bright future ahead of them. We are looking forward to seeing what they do on the court.
— The Associated Press contributed to this column