By TIM REYNOLDS , AP Basketball Writer
Gordon Hayward has chosen to sign with the Boston Celtics and reunite with coach Brad Stevens.
Hayward told Utah officials that he is moving on after seven seasons with the Jazz and that he picked Boston, making the announcement Tuesday evening on The Players’ Tribune site .
Hayward played college ball under Stevens at Butler. He leaves a loaded Western Conference to join a Boston team that was the No. 1 seed in last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs. The Miami Heat also were in the chase to land Hayward.
He was finally an All-Star for the first time last season, averaging career bests of 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds. Hayward also shot 47 percent, a significant jump over what he managed in the previous four seasons.
“This was a life-changing decision for me and my family, and something we took really seriously,” Hayward wrote. “And from the very start of this process, one thing stood out as important: I knew that I wanted the fans and the organizations to hear my decision directly from me.
“After seven years in Utah, I have decided to join the Boston Celtics.”
His post capped a strange day, after it was widely reported in the early afternoon that Hayward picked the Celtics — a decision immediately shot down by his agent Mark Bartelstein, who told The Associated Press and many other outlets that Hayward was still going over his options.
Several hours later, it was done, and it was Boston.
“This has been the toughest decision that I’ve ever had to make in my life,” Hayward wrote. “This weekend has probably been the longest weekend of my life. And today . well, today has definitely been one of the craziest days of my life. But I wanted to make sure that I got this right.”
He becomes the third prominent free agent in three years to announce his plans on July 4: LaMarcus Aldridge left Portland for San Antonio on that date in 2015, and Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State on the holiday in 2016.
Hayward opted out of his contract and became a free agent late last month, a move that was expected. Utah could have been in position to offer Hayward the so-called Supermax deal — a five-year extension worth just over $200 million — if he was selected to an All-NBA team after the season, but his vote total fell well short of making that list.
Other than Golden State stars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, Hayward may have been the top free agent on the market this summer.
He picked up steam as the year went along, posting the three highest-scoring games of his career after March 20.
Then he helped Utah win a playoff series for the first time since 2010, prevailing in a Game 7 on the road to oust the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round before getting swept by the Warriors in the second round.
Clearly, Utah has been a team on the rise. But with the West still absolutely loaded — Golden State winning two titles in the last three years, Houston acquiring All-Star point guard Chris Paul in an effort to move up and challenge the champs, and Oklahoma City getting Paul George to pair with MVP Russell Westbrook — the best chance for Hayward to make an NBA Finals may be trying to get there from the East.