BSJ Exclusive: Gordon Hayward discusses Celtics’ present and his own future as trade deadline nears

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Last year, the Celtics’ offseason was full of uncertainty. Kyrie Irving’s departure created a domino effect that helped lead to an overhaul of nearly half the roster. A similar path will not be followed heading into the 2020 offseason, at least among the team’s core pieces. Kemba Walker has stepped in as an All-Star point guard and one of the faces of the franchise in year one of his four-year pact. Jayson Tatum is still locked into his rookie deal and could sign a max extension as soon as this summer that would keep him under contract for five more seasons. Jaylen Brown is locked up for another four years after inking a hefty extension back in October. Marcus Smart is still signed for another two years as well.

All in all, 12 players are under contract for the Celtics next season, with the only prominent question mark among the team’s core being Gordon Hayward. The 29-year-old’s stock has shot up and down for much of the season as he has battled injuries that sidetracked his superb start. Hayward’s rhythm has come back in recent weeks though, and he has performed like the best all-around player on the roster for the last two weeks.

With the trade deadline just one week away, Hayward’s future in Boston, from an individual and a team perspective, carries multiple layers of intrigue. The Celtics have been insistent all year long that they are committed to their current core for this season, but there have been calls from analysts for the prospect of shopping Hayward as a player to both guarantee some kind of return for him (in the event he opts out this summer) and to find a better fit for a roster that is loaded with strength on the wing.

Even entertaining the notion of trading Hayward now would only make sense if the team believes he might leave or if they don’t think he’s part of their long-term plans anyway. Even in that scenario, trading him might take away a critical chance to make a team run in the East with this surprising squad.

So what does Hayward think about this team’s present and his own future? BostonSportsJournal.com caught up with the veteran this past week to get a sense of where Hayward’s head is at when it comes to the next stages of his career.

Hayward has a player option for $34.1 million for 2020-21 that he has until June 29th to pick up.

“What I want to do is help us win a championship here this year,” Hayward told BSJ. “That's our goal as a team, and I think that starts with trying to get better each day and focus on the game at hand. All the other stuff, you deal with as it comes to you. Right now, I'm trying to just play my best basketball and help our team.”

Hayward not showing his cards is understandable in this instance, but even with his return to an All-Star level player in recent weeks, the free-agent market does not look promising for a 30-year-old looking to secure another big contract. Currently, there are only a few teams with the amount of projected cap room that could come close to Hayward’s player option salary.

Teams projected to have significant cap space in 2020

Atlanta: $70 million
Memphis: $50 million
Cleveland: $30 million
Charlotte: $26 million
New York: None-$51 million (depending on how they handle team options)
Phoenix: Up to $27 million (if they let go of Saric, Baynes)

That’s not a long list, and beyond the Memphis Grizzlies, there is not a potential playoff team in that group. While Hayward would be a nice fit for the Grizzlies from a positional standpoint, he isn’t exactly on the same timetable in his career as Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Would Hayward take close to max money to help bring a floundering franchise like Atlanta or Phoenix back to relevancy (or at least a playoff spot) if the Celtics played hardball with their offer? Would those teams even want to invest big money in him as they try to maximize their own young talent? Outside of Charlotte and New York, Hayward would not be the star/lead dog in any of these places. He has also failed to advance beyond the second round of the postseason in his career, and the odds of that happening in any of these spots would certainly go down compared to Boston.

Needless to say, the Celtics can look at that list of potential suitors and feel pretty good right now about avoiding an Al Horford-type scenario where Hayward gets a great offer from a contending rival. The Celtics may not want to match the offers Hayward gets on the open market if he opts out, but they should be able to provide a compelling case from a winning perspective.

What exactly are the C’s plans with Hayward though? Would they want to invest in him again long-term and face a hefty tax bill in the process? Is that a conversation the team has had with Hayward’s representatives this season?

“We haven't talked about that,” Hayward told BSJ. “We just try to talk about, at least with me, what can we do now to try to help us win. I haven't talked about any of the other stuff.”

And could a trade deadline addition to the team’s core help put the C’s in a better position to go toe-to-toe with the Bucks and other contenders in the East playoffs?

“Honestly, that's a little above my paygrade,” Hayward said. “That's up to Danny