Gordon Hayward was always going to be the first domino to fall during the Celtics offseason and there now appears to be a growing level of uncertainty about the future of the 30-year-old here in Boston. We’ve covered many angles of Hayward’s situation here at BSJ in the past few weeks, but there is a different one now in play: The possibility that Hayward’s agent is testing the open market.
“There’s some buzz out there. And I can’t figure out what the buzz means,” ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on the Lowe Post Podcast on Monday. “The buzz that I’m hearing is like the smoke, the smoke indicating that something is happening. I’m not sure what’s up, but I don’t think it’s a lock that Gordon Hayward is on the Celtics next year.”
Lowe later tempered those thoughts just a bit in the podcast, noting “We don’t know that there’s a Gordon Hayward chase. We don’t know that any of this is happening,” he added.
There are many layers to this situation from both the Hayward and the Celtics' perspectives. Let’s take a deeper look at this and see what’s at play here for both sides as they explore their options this offseason.
Is Hayward open to staying in Boston?
We’ve been operating under the assumption that Hayward would be open to staying in Boston long-term at the right price. This latest buzz around Hayward makes it fair to at least consider the possibility that’s not the case. The Celtics are well-positioned to pay him and offer him a chance at winning for the foreseeable future — and signing him to an extension at a lower annual salary offers them a chance to build more flexibility and gives them a potential trade asset to keep or move over the long-term.
Hayward’s agent Mark Bartelstein could be testing the free agent waters for his client to simply help him figure out a market for his extension. Things can change though if Hayward is unsure about remaining in Boston past next season. If he doesn’t want to stay for a reasonable price and the Celtics catch wind of it, there’s a strong chance he could be traded in the present in order for the Celtics to ensure they lock in some kind of return for him, something that didn’t happen with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford last summer when they walked away with no compensation coming back Boston’s way.
Since the Celtics would not have salary cap room if Hayward walks this summer or next summer, there will be limited resources to replace his production.
Who could sign Hayward if he opts out?
The good news for the Celtics? There really aren’t a lot of teams that can offer Hayward a lucrative deal in direct contrast to Al Horford last summer once he opted out of his deal. Horford found what he thought was a contender in Philly that was willing to pay him more than Boston annually and let him play a position he wanted (power forward).
This year — you can almost count the number of teams with significant cap space on one hand.
Atlanta: $45 million
New York: $0-45 million (depending on if team options are picked up)
Detroit: $30 million
Miami: $22 million
Charlotte: $22 million
Phoenix: Up to $22 million (if they let go of Saric, Baynes)
The Heat are the only contender on that list and they will prioritize bigger fish long-term (Giannis) on the free-agent market over Hayward, rather using their cap room on him now. If Hayward wants to leverage a long-term offer against Boston, the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons are the only teams that can pay him enough next year (besides Boston) to make opting out worth his while (unless he’s willing to take significant paycut to leave). The Pistons are rebuilding, so Hayward makes little sense for them. The same goes for the Knicks, who may target bigger star power via trade. The Hawks are moving towards win-now mode with a younger core that has been middling for too long, but they would be middle-of-the-road playoff team at best with Hayward in the picture. Not sure how much appeal that would hold to a 30-year-old veteran unless they want to pay through the nose for him. In a weak free-agent market, the possibility can't be ruled out. If this happens, Hayward could force his way via trade to a preferred destination or threaten to sign outright with the Hawks (leaving the C's with nothing). This is the worst case scenario for Boston, albeit an unlikely one.
If Atlanta isn’t interested in offering big money this offseason, the only other real leverage that Bartelstein has here for Hayward (if he wants out) against the Celtics is simply threatening or signaling that Hayward is going to walk away from Boston at the end of next season when his current contract expires.
In that scenario, the Celtics would be put into a challenging spot with greater urgency factoring in. They could bring Hayward back and try to make a run at another title with him. They could move him midseason. The higher percentage play for the long-term may be simply to trade him this offseason for some kind of promising return that is guaranteed to last in Boston beyond next season.
How could a sign-and-trade factor in for Hayward?
Hayward’s agent could be testing the market now for some sign-and-trade possibilities or simply try to find some leverage to negotiate an extension for him. There aren’t a lot of teams that would give up much for Hayward if he’s simply on an expensive expiring contract next year. That changes if he’s willing to sign long-term in a new home. If he does want out of Boston, Hayward’s agent would need the Celtics' help to pull off a trade with a team that's
a) willing to pay Hayward market rate for the next three seasons (at least)
b) willing to give up something valuable enough for the Celtics in a trade to move him prematurely
Checking both of those boxes isn’t necessarily an easy task, especially in the midst of coronavirus pandemic that might make teams hesitant to commit big money to a 30-year-old who has dealt with a constant stream of injuries. Hayward can help a contender win when he’s at his best, but we haven’t seen that guy in the playoffs for three years now.
Let’s play the game though. What type of value could the Celtics get for Hayward if he is shopped via a sign-and-trade or if they simply trade his expiring deal? Here’s a look at five landing spots.
Realistic Hayward trade destinations
Indiana Pacers: Hayward for Myles Turner, TJ McConnell and Doug McDermott
Overview: We covered this one last week. I don’t think Myles Turner holds much long-term appeal for Boston at the center spot, so I think they pass on this one unless a better sweetener (TJ Warren, Aaron Holiday, draft pick) is put on the table. If Hayward agrees to an extension ahead of time, that could lead to the Pacers offering more to land the Indiana native.
Dallas Mavericks: Hayward for Tim Hardaway Jr. and Seth Curry
Overview: This is probably my favorite trade destination for Hayward if he simply opts in. With Luka Doncic moving into MVP candidate territory, they are firmly in win now mode and a versatile wing is high on their list of needs. Acquiring Hayward also wouldn’t impact their ability to sign a star long-term to pair with Doncic. Hardaway Jr. is a solid (albeit inferior) player compared to Hayward on both ends of the court but the C’s could nab a valuable bench shooter in Seth Curry for their trouble or another solid bench player or two (Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson) under team control for the next 2-3 seasons to bolster the bench.
Orlando Magic: Sign-and-trade. Hayward and an asset (young player or first-round pick) for Aaron Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu
Overview: The Magic have a roster full of young players that haven’t fit well over the past few seasons, going round and round