Make no mistake: The Celtics wanted Gordon Hayward back in free agency. They offered north of $100 million over four years to bring him back, a contract that was ultimately blown away by a Hornets team that had plenty of cash to spend and very few willing to take it (Montrezl Harrell turned down more money from Charlotte to sign with Lakers).
Yet, as the dust settles and negotiations continue between the Celtics, Hornets and a third team (Thunder or Knicks in all likelihood) about a three-team sign-and-trade scenario that would net Boston a trade exception, Danny Ainge and the rest of the Celtics front office are left to figure out the aftermath of Hayward’s departure. Losing the fourth-best player (or better) on a contender with no direct way of replacing their production or salary slot at the wing is far from ideal, even when said player has been snake bitten with injuries the past few seasons.
Yet, just like last offseason with Al Horford, the Celtics elected not to overpay in this instance and match the Hornets’ monster offer (Hayward may have walked anyway even if they did). The prospect of paying Hayward $30 million well into his 30s to be a fourth option on this team was enough in itself for Ainge to balk at matching that payday. However, there is another silver lining here for Boston when it comes to the present in Hayward’s departure.
With Hayward’s pricy $34.1-million salary for the 2020-21 season off the books, along with the trades of centers Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier, Boston suddenly has some payroll flexibility in the present, currently sitting $18 million shy of the luxury tax.
Kemba Walker ($34.3 million)
Jaylen Brown ($23 million)
Marcus Smart ($13.4 million)
Jayson Tatum ($9.8 million)
Tristan Thompson ($9.2 million)
Daniel Theis ($5 million)
Romeo Langford ($3.6 million)
Aaron Nesmith ($3.5 million)
Grant Williams ($2.5 million)
Peyton Pritchard ($2 million)
Robert Williams ($2.0 million)
Jeff Teague ($1.6 million or BAE)
Carsen Edwards ($1.5 million)
Javonte Green ($1.5 million non-guaranteed)
Dead cap hits: Guerschon Yabusele ($1 million) and Demetrius Jackson ($100k)
Trade exceptions: $5 million (Kanter deal), $2.6 million (Poirier deal), ??? (Hayward deal)
Payroll: $114 million to 14 players
Luxury tax threshold: $132 million
Avoiding that luxury tax threat in the present allowed Boston to use the full mid-level exception ($9.2 million) instead of the taxpayer midlevel exception ($5.7 million) in order to land center Tristan Thompson, matching the offers he received from other suitors in Toronto among others.
However, the Celtics still remain well shy of the luxury tax threshold of $132 million after that signing and after adding Jeff Teague on a (veteran’s minimum) contract. There’s still another potential hole to fill on the wing but Boston could add another medium salaried player ($10-15 million) this year via trade and still steer clear of being a tax team.
Avoiding the tax this year could be very helpful in order for the Celtics to better maximize their contending window over the rest of the decade. Why? It allows them to reset their repeater tax clock.
The repeater tax is a stiff penalty that teams pay when they go over the luxury tax in a season and had also done so during three of