2020 Offseason Preview Collection: The Gordon Hayward Query
The Boston Celtics off-season begins … well … someday. For now, all we know for sure is that the 2020 NBA draft will take place on Wednesday, November 18th. The free agency is expected to open around December 1st. Before that, players and teams have to make choices about options and guarantees.
No option decision is greater for the Boston Celtics, and possibly the entire NBA, than Gordon Hayward's player option.
We're going to break down the four sensible paths for Hayward and the Celtics. We'll do this in order of most likely to most unlikely:
Hayward participates and plays out the 2021 season
· Hayward leaves and signs a new contract with Boston
· Hayward makes a decision and takes action
· Hayward is eliminated and leaves the Celtics in free hand
There are no other overly realistic scenarios. Hayward is unlikely to sign an extension. We'll discuss this, but Hayward is unlikely to opt out and be part of a sign and trade transaction.
Photo by Brian Babineau / NBAE via Getty Images
Hayward decides on the 2021 season
The decision for Gordon Hayward is to opt for a fourth season in Boston in 2021 for $ 34,187,085. When Hayward left Utah Jazz in the summer of 2017 to sign a four-year contract with the Celtics, it was a cause for celebration. For a second straight offseason, Danny Ainge landed a maximum free agent after Al Horford in 2016. That excitement only got worse when Ainge closed a deal for Kyrie Irving. Immediately, visions of Banner 18 danced in the minds of those around Boston.
Those dreams met with great success when Hayward was injured five minutes into the first night of the 2017/18 season. He would miss the rest of that season, when Boston fell in seven games against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.
When Hayward returned for the 2018-19 season, it looked like the Celtics had their deepest, most diverse team in years. Instead, there were too many players playing, and in the second round against the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston blazed out in five games.
2019-20 was seen as a kind of reset for both Hayward and the Celtics. He would be two years away from his injury and have a full season behind him. After all, Boston could see the player they had lured away from Utah and only a few glimpses of him. Unfortunately, the injury bug struck again. Hayward broke his hand fighting his way through a screen in early November and missed a month. Aside from a few rest periods where pain flared up in the left ankle / foot, Hayward remained healthy. So until the playoffs.
Late in Boston's first game 1 win against the Philadelphia 76ers, Hayward suffered a severely sprained ankle. He returned in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, but struggled with some problems when Boston fell in six games.
Despite the injuries, it was a good season for Hayward. He averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists on 50/38/85 shooting splits. His individual offensive rating of 118 was the best of the regular Celtics wings. The only knock was the ubiquitous "Will he be well?" Question.
That question brings Hayward to an interesting place. He is now 30 years old. While this may no longer be the barrier it once was, it is still viewed as a turning point in a player's career cycle. Hayward also has a long injury history.
Ordinarily, you'd suggest that Hayward take a look at the season he's put together and go for a longer team contract. Rarely does a player make good all-round stats for great shooting odds like Hayward and go for it. However, that is exactly what is most likely with Hayward.
Given his injury history and age, it is highly unlikely that Hayward will ever see another payday in a $ 34.2 million season. It certainly won't happen this off-season. There are few teams who could offer that much to Hayward, and they are likely not suited for his services.
Plus, Hayward can reasonably look at his 2019-20 season, accidental injuries and everything and bet on himself. If he has another good year in 2021 and can stay relatively injury-free, Hayward will expect a solid payday in the summer of 2021 in a far more player-friendly market.
Photo by David Sherman / NBAE via Getty Images
Hayward leaves and signs a new contract with Boston
Haywards de-registration and re-signing with the Celtics is the second most likely course of action. Yes, we've all heard that at Al Horford, but it's a different situation for some reasons.
Horford signed off in an off-season due to the historically large amount of space available in the NBA. Horford was also a 33-year-old free agent. That was a significant cap on what Danny Ainge was willing to pay him. And there was a finished title contender who made him a huge offer in the Philadelphia 76ers.
Although Boston wanted to keep Horford and put in place a number of complicated sign and trade deals, they would not match the money he had received from Philadelphia. All of these factors caused him to leave.
With Hayward, there are no applicants to fight off. All teams with cap space this off-season are either bad, have plans for the future that don't require long-term contracts to be signed, or both. That makes it easier to imagine Hayward signing out and signing a long-term contract with Boston.
Why would Boston want to entertain this? There are several reasons. Say you can get Hayward to sign something on the order of four years, $ 90 million, but you preload the deal at $ 25.5 million in 2021, which is about $ 10 million of the Celtic -Luxury tax amount. That would enable them to completely evade the tax in a few more small steps.
Additionally, that type of contract would keep a quality player of positive value in Boston for the remainder of the season. It's also big enough without being too ornery to be a trading chip. And finally, frontloading the deal would lower it as Hayward's value on the court is likely to decrease. The final year of this deal would be roughly $ 19.4 million if Hayward was in his 33-34 year season.
The final reason why it makes sense to re-sign Hayward if he signs out? Boston can't replace him if he goes. Despite scraping $ 34.2 million off their books, the Celtics believe they'll be well above the salary cap. Despite the injury concerns, Boston is highly unlikely to be able to replace what Hayward gives them, given their limited resources.
What about Hayward's side? Why should he care about unsubscribing and re-signing? With a similar framework of business, Hayward would provide long-term security. That's $ 90 million versus $ 34 million. If he doesn't think he can get close to a Fast Max free agent contract in 2021, he likely won't get more than that in the open market.
Additionally, Hayward seems to be enjoying playing for the Celtics. The main reason he chose Boston in 2017 was to play for Brad Stevens again. There is clearly a special bond there. Hayward has also spoken ardently about Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and how much he enjoys playing with Kemba Walker. That deal would keep him at that core for the foreseeable future.
After all, Hayward has a large, young family. You have now brought Boston home. It is unlikely that they will willingly resume and move everyone, especially after they have just had a new baby. Now or in the summer of 2021, expect Hayward's priority to be to sign with the Celtics again.
Photo by Brian Babineau / NBAE via Getty Images
Hayward makes a decision and takes action
This falls to third place because while Hayward is less likely to stay in Boston, Danny Ainge leads the Celtics. Ainge is not sentimental and does not get involved in stories. If he believes there is a deal that will bring Boston closer to a title without harming the team in the long term, Ainge will make it.
That must make Hayward a little restless, assuming he chooses to. $ 34.2 million would go a big part in the salary adjustment to either fill in the depths of Boston or to bring in a star alongside Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. We'll look at realistic trading options later in the Offseason Preview Series, and many of them will involve Hayward.
Now let's talk about the pros and cons of dealing with Hayward. Before doing that, let's start with the fact that Boston cannot currently trade with Hayward. As an upcoming free agent, he would have to exercise his option for the 2021 season in order for the Celtics to trade him. This decision date is unlikely to be before the 2020 NBA draft, so any kind of draft day trade with Hayward is likely to be ruled out.
The moment Hayward decides, however, it immediately becomes an important trading chip. As mentioned above, that $ 34.2 million salary for any player in the NBA could be on its own. Add one of the smaller Boston contracts to Hayward and there won't be a single player the math doesn't work to get.
There's also the factor that Hayward is a quality player. He put up his impressive all-round stats while finishing fourth in action with the Celtics. He was well behind Brown, Tatum and Walker and was not far ahead of Enes Kanter. It's easy to imagine another team seeing this and predicting Hayward as a 20/8/6 player for them.
Even with $ 34.2 million owed for 2021, Hayward would be an expiring contract. With many teams positioning themselves for a bonanza for free agents in the summer of 2021, this is a good sum to clear your books. If Boston were willing to take on a long-term salary, its trading partner could sort things out for a run at the free agency next summer.
The biggest thing against trading with Hayward is the perception. Danny Ainge is still working against the backlash in trading Isaiah Thomas after everything IT went through. There are people in the NBA who believe that Ainge's lack of nostalgia also leads him to see players as pieces on a chessboard or as people. While this approach has earned the Celtics a championship and kept them competitive, it can eventually backfire.
The other problem is finding the same value in a trade. As mentioned earlier, Hayward is a good player, albeit injury prone. That means Ainge has to bring back one player who is just as good, or multiple players who can replace what the team loses in trading with Hayward. This is unlikely to be cheap, so Boston is likely to add a long-term salary to any Hayward deal.
While Hayward is unlikely to sign up and then start trading, it cannot be ruled out. There are reasons why it makes sense for the Celtics to think about it. The best reason to keep this in mind is that Ainge is relatively reckless. After the Los Angeles Lakers got Boston on the all-time career ladder, Ainge is under increased pressure to deliver Banner 18.
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak / NBAE via Getty Images
Hayward is eliminated and leaves the Celtics in free hand
This one is pretty short and cute. It probably won't happen. Hayward would have to choose that he no longer wants to play in Boston for this to happen. No team will give him a contract anywhere near the $ 34.2 million he would give up from the Celtics in 2021. Only the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, and New York Knicks are capable of this. It's unlikely that Hayward would want to play for either of these teams (insert your Knicks jokes here!).
Additionally, a sign-and-trade deal is also pretty unlikely. Boston would have to find the right partner and that partner would have to want Hayward in the long term. With so many teams headed to Cap Space for the 2021 off-season, it's unlikely anyone will be able to land a long-term deal for Hayward.
We also set out the personal reasons Hayward has to stay up in Boston. Of all the options this off-season, this one seems the least likely for a number of reasons.
Photo by Brian Babineau / NBAE via Getty Images
While Hayward won't be the first chronological dominoes to fall for the Celtics this off-season, he is certainly the most important. Sound off the comments on what Gordon Hayward should be doing this off-season. Or what to expect from the Boston Celtics when Hayward gets on or off.