Gordon Hayward took until the very last minute on Thursday to elect to not pick up his $34.1 million player option, a move that allows him to test free agency when it begins on Friday evening. It’s important to remember that most options are still in play now that this decision has been made, so let's go over what's on the table for both sides — beyond Hayward not making $34 million next season.
1. Gordon Hayward could still re-sign with the Celtics on a long-term deal: This is probably the least likely scenario but it’s still in play. Boston maintains Bird Rights on him, so the Celtics will have the ability to offer whatever they want here. If they want to outbid any of Hayward’s suitors on the free agent market, they will have the chance. However, if Hayward wants a fresh start somewhere else, this probably won’t matter for the Celtics — but until we know more about his intentions, it’s still on the table as a possibility (albeit an unlikely one).
2. Celtics send Hayward to another team via a sign-and-trade: This is still the most likely scenario. Hayward would need to sign at least a three-year deal for any sign-and-trade to be legal under trade rules. However, if he wants to go to a destination that doesn’t have cap room, this would be a way for the Celtics to acquire some assets in return via matching salary for facilitating the deal. We brainstormed a few potential trade matches earlier this offseason here at BSJ in this regard, but it’s important to note now that Hayward’s salary matching will become easier now that he won’t be making $34 million (likely somewhere in $20-25 million range is a fair guess as a starting salary for a new deal).
3. Hayward signs outright with a team that has salary cap room: This is the worst-case scenario for Boston since Hayward would walk to a new team, leaving the Celtics with no compensation and no way to replace his money (since the team is still over the cap). At the moment, there are three potential suitors in play that could create enough cap room to sign him. The biggest ones are the Knicks and Hawks (about $40-45 million each in cap room) with the Hornets looming as a wild-card threat ($19 million). Charlotte would need to clear a little more salary off the books to put together a competitive offer but that shouldn’t be tough for them to pull off.
While the rumor mill has been buzzing with the Knicks and Hawks' reported interest in bringing in Hayward all week, it’s important to note that there are a lot of potential appealing names also on the open market that could be targeted by any of these teams over Hayward. They include Fred VanVleet, Goran Dragic, Christian Wood, Joe Harris, Montrezl Harrell, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, Danilo Galllinari, Jerami Grant, Davis Bertrans, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Hayward is better than a lot of those guys, but would a team like the Hawks prefer two or three guys on that list over giving a 31-year-old Hayward a big long-term contract? The same question can be asked for the Hornets and Knicks. And does Hayward