Gordon Hayward made his decision. And he’s going to be a Boston Celtic. Despite their addition, it’s still an uphill battle to win the East.

For the second-straight Independence Day, we’ve had the star of a team jump ship. The situations between Kevin Durant and Hayward are just as similar as they are different, but there was nothing concrete saying Hayward would stay. With Durant, it was assumed he’d be returning to Oklahoma City. Regardless, it doesn’t sting any less. During his seven years in Salt Lake City, Hayward evolved from a floppy-haired teen to a man who could model for GQ in the offseason. His game has changed just as much.

Last year was the first time Hayward landed on an All-Star team. Now that he’s in the East, there’s a legitimate chance he becomes a perennial selection. Hayward averaged a career-best 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds with a true shooting percentage of 59.5 that was helped greatly by his newfound accuracy from downtown (39.8 percent). He continued that stellar play into the postseason, where Utah got past the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games before getting swept by the Golden State Warriors. In 11 contests, Hayward put up 24.1 points, 6.1 boards and shot 44.1 percent from the field.

The gauntlet that is the Western Conference has only gotten stronger. Jimmy Butler and Paul George, two of the best forwards in the East, are now with Minnesota and Oklahoma City, respectively. Both of those teams share the Northwest Division with the Jazz. Also, Paul Millsap signed with the Denver Nuggets; Chris Paul went to Houston, and Kevin Durant remains in the Bay after taking a pay cut that would make Jordan Belfort sob uncontrollably.

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Oh, and there’s still the San Antonio Spurs. And the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans can turn some heads this year. The point here is simple: winning out West is tough. In Hayward’s Players’ Tribune piece, he cited “unfinished business” as the reason he picked Boston.

Brad Stevens, the current Celtics coach, was at Butler the same time Hayward was. That team had a magical run to the National Championship Game where they ultimately fell short. Hayward wants to win a title. The path is easier in the East.

Don’t get it twisted — it’s the LeEastern Conference until further notice, but the sheer amount of teams Hayward needs to go through is shorter. Outside of Boston and Cleveland, Washington is the only other threat in the conference. The Toronto Raptors are solid, but they have yet to show up in the postseason. I also believe the Milwaukee Bucks will be a tough out, but Boston still has the edge.

The Celtics have another chance to be the conference’s top seed. After winning 53 games last year, they went out and added one of the seven best small forwards in the NBA. If Hayward stayed in Utah, they probably finish with a record similar to last year, and that would potentially keep them out of the top-four. Boston also drafted Jayson Tatum, who looked phenomenal in his first Summer League game a couple of nights ago. I don’t want to overreact, but platooning Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Jae Crowder at the forward spot(s) is an excellent rotation because they all do things that the others don’t. And that includes Hayward.

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It was an absolute bloodbath in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals — including the two games Isaiah Thomas was present. Cleveland wrapped up the series in five games with a scoring margin of 120.4 to 100.4. And how can we forget the second game where the Celtics lost by 44 on their home court?

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were unstoppable. They finished with 29.6 and 25.8 points a night, respectively, and boasted shooting clips of 58.0 and 62.2 percent. On top of that, Kevin Love lit up the scoreboard with 22.6 points and was killer from three-point land at 53.5 percent. His activity on defense was also invaluable, and the Celtics just had a litany of problems trying to score which was compounded by Thomas’ injury.

God forbid something like that happens again, Hayward’s there. And he can carry the load of a first option. Even if the Celtics are at full strength, Hayward brings an entirely different dynamic to their team. First and foremost, they now have a sidekick to Thomas. Al Horford (and Avery Bradley) occupied that role for last year, but Hayward is better suited for that because of his lethality on the offensive end.

It’s no secret that Isaiah Thomas is a high-usage, ball-dominant point guard. He creates a lot of the Celtics’ offense. However, things get dicey when opponents start to bottle him up as the game goes on. Bradley has combo guard skills, can work the pick-and-roll and has a very balanced offense overall, making him a more reliable second option. Horford can’t create a bucket as easily as his backcourt counterparts, and that’s okay. His value lies in defense, decision-making and intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

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With Hayward, the Celtics have the small forward equivalent of Avery Bradley — but better. And I’m interested to see how much more intensely Bradley plays on defense now that he doesn’t have to launch 15 shots a night. I’m also curious to see if Danny Ainge is willing to part with Bradley in a deal for another All-Star-caliber player. There are rumblings about Marc Gasol possibly coming to Boston, and then the Celtics would have a legitimate chance at contending. If that falls through, maybe they pull Anthony Davis? It’s not a longshot if the Pelicans continue to struggle. Boston has all the assets in the world, and we would finally be able to stop making jokes if Ainge turned them into an MVP candidate. A big three with Thomas, Hayward and Davis is harrowing.

A deal like that is further down the line, but maybe the Celtics’ front office is playing that game. I don’t believe they’re beating the Cavaliers if they meet in the postseason, but Cleveland’s reign of dominance won’t last forever. It will, however, be an entertaining matchup and is more than likely to extend to seven games. Hayward and James would trade shots; Thomas and Irving would do the same. It would fall on the role players to make plays, and I presume that’s why Celtics fans have optimism about their future. Cleveland hasn’t done anything of note this postseason. Actually — I lied. They fired their general manager because that was the smart thing to do, right?

If we continue this look toward to the future, there’s the chance LeBron goes West. At that point, the conference would be Boston’s to lose and Gordon Hayward’s decision would be more than worth it.

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