The first big domino of the Celtics offseason will have to wait at least one more day to fall. Zach Lowe of ESPN.com was first to report on Tuesday afternoon that the Celtics and Gordon Hayward have agreed to extend the deadline on Hayward’s $34.1 million player option for next season to Thursday at 5 p.m. according to a league source. That was originally set to be decided on by Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET. Now, the two sides are kicking the can until roughly 24 hours before free agency begins.
This decision naturally leads to a number of questions. Why would both sides agree to delay a decision? What will happen now? Let’s try to take a look at both sides of the equation to uncover some answers.
Why would Hayward want to delay the option?
Let’s start from the ground floor here. By agreeing to a delayed option deadline, we know that there is not a big contract waiting for Hayward out there right now like there was with Al Horford last offseason in Philly. We have broken down potential suitors for Hayward for a while now at BSJ (Hawks, Knicks) but it’s evident that teams with big cap room have plenty of other options in play right now, especially heading into draft night, so no offer has been made to Hayward that is good enough for him to turn down $34 million for next season.
With that said, Hayward probably wants to remain in control over his destiny to a degree here, especially if he is not interested in staying in Boston over the long-term. If Hayward opts-in now ahead of the draft, he could have been traded on draft night to a place he didn’t want to go. By delaying the opt-in decision, he still has the ability to give his blessing on a destination tomorrow night (if a trade is in the cards), while also keeping the ability to opt into $34 million in his back pocket. It’s also possible a suitor could emerge for his services after draft night, giving his camp some incentive to wait and see how his market develops.
Why would the Celtics agree to the delay?
They have a lot of different balls in the air heading into draft night as well. It would be helpful to know what Hayward’s intentions are already but giving him more time to make a decision about what comes next for him is far better for Boston than him opting out outright of his current deal. Flexibility serves the Celtics well here if a trade or extension is in the cards, assuming they are working together with Hayward’s camp about finding an end game that satisfies all parties involved.
Additionally from Boston’s standpoint, keeping or trading Hayward probably gets a lot easier if he is not signed for $34 million next year. If the Celtics and Hayward are negotiating a potential extension (unlikely but possible), bringing down Hayward’s salary for this year while tacking on more years help the C’s flexibility this offseason to contend. Additionally, a sign-and-trade would be easier to pull off now once the draft dust settles and other teams have a better sense of what holes they have to fill on their roster and what they are willing to give up.
UPDATE 7:30 P.M. TUESDAY
Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports is reporting that an expected suitor with cap room has emerged for Hayward: the Atlanta Hawks.
This is bad news for the Celtics’ from a leverage standpoint since the Hawks are one of two teams with over $30 million in cap room so they could sign the 30-year-old swingman outright without sending the Celtics compensation if Hayward opts out of his player option later this week.
With that said, there are several other x-factors in play. Hayward may be on Atlanta’s wish list but they could have other aspirations in free agency with their cap room, putting Hayward down the list a bit on their priority list. As mentioned, if a deal was waiting for Hayward, he would have just opted out already. From that standpoint, Hayward’s camp leaking potential suitors also puts pressure on the Celtics to give Hayward what he wants, whether it’s a big extension in Boston or a trade to a preferred destination.
Any form of a sign-and-trade would technically benefit the Celtics here with Hayward, even if it brings back no player compensation to Boston. The Hawks could take Hayward into cap room without sending any players back to Boston and that would create a massive $34.1 million trade exception in the event of an opt-in and trade or an extend-and-trade to Atlanta (for whatever his starting salary would be in the new deal ($20-25 million)).
The other wildcard in play is the free-agent market. The Hawks' situation could change on draft night if they use the No. 6 pick to