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Changes put Gordon Hayward in the Jazz's immediate plans

BasketballUtah JazzIndiana Pacers2011 NBA LockoutAndrei KirilenkoGordon HaywardDeron Williams

With the light striking his new purple hat as he stepped onto stage, there was one thing that seemed a safe bet when it came to Utah's first pick in June of 2010.

Gordon Hayward wouldn't have the lights shine on him too much too early-and that was viewed as a positive.

At 19-year-old and fresh of a epic run to the national title game, the Butler forward was going to need sometime to mature and realize his full potential as a basketball player. No better place than to do that at Utah, where a Jazz team stocked with veterans and a longtime coach wouldn't need his services for another couple of years.

But, a las, the NBA is a fickle business. Deron Williams feuded with Jerry Sloan. He resigned, then Williams was traded. Andrei Kirilenko went to Russia during the NBA Lockout and decided not to return.

Suddenly, the lengthy forward had to get some sunglasses.

"It was a shock," said Hayward of the Jazz's upheaval over the last year. "Those guys were staples in the Utah Jazz organization."

Call it a wake up call to the real world of the National Basketball Association, where contending teams can fall apart in a matter of weeks and a player with potential in their early 20s suddenly gets thrust into the spotlight.

"You just have to realize its a business and those things are going to happen," said Hayward of the Jazz changes, which did have a significant benefit for him.

After seeing just 16 minutes of playing time a game in his rookie season, Hayward was elevated to the starting role for the Jazz this season and so far has started all 24 games. He's averaging just over 28 minutes a game, scoring 9.7 points, 3.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds a contest.

"Expectations to continue to do you job, to help the team and do whatever you can to win," said Hayward of his hopes since gaining a significant amount of playing time. "Ultimately that's what I want to do."

First year head coach Tyrone Corbin believes he does so with his realistic attitude that he brings to workouts and games.

"He's a kid that's understanding how he can get to what he wants to get to in a game as games go forward," said Corbin of Hayward. "His confidence and his strength on his body is getting better, he's feeling more comfortable with that."

Perhaps that showed when the starter Hayward returned to Indianapolis for the first and only time this season. He started slow with just four points in the first half but caught on in the second half and led a furious Jazz rallies.

A backdoor slam highlighted his seven second-half points that helped the Jazz really from a 21-point deficit to actually take the lead in the fourth. In the end, the young Jazz fell to the ever-progressing Pacers 104-99 as Hayward finished with 11 points three rebounds and three assists.

Call it another building block on a rebuilding team in a condensed season for Hayward, who finds himself in the spotlight that a year ago was reserved for others sporting the off-purple jerseys.

"One of the biggest things I'm trying to work on is to bring it every night," said Hayward. "Not one night do really well and then the next night not so well.

"Hopefully we'll have a good night tonight."

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