Before the NBA season shut down on March 12, forward Gordon Hayward was having his best season as a Celtic and one of the best seasons of his career, with averages of 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists, as well as career-best shooting, making 50.2 percent from the field. His performance has been overshadowed at different times by the trio of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, but Hayward has been solid across the board for Boston this year.
As things stood, that was already going to make it a complicated enough offseason for him. Now with the league almost two weeks into an indefinite suspension as the nation deals with the spread of the coronavirus, Hayward’s complicated offseason is getting a bit trickier.
Hayward has a sizable player option for next season, worth $34 million, the final year on the free-agent deal he signed with Boston in 2017. According to his contract, he has until June 29 to inform the Celtics whether he is opting in for that. Pushing back player and team contract option deadlines is one of the items that is expected to be worked out between the league and the union whenever plans to restart the season come into focus.
But Hayward still will have to make the decision eventually. He can opt-in and take his $34 million over one year. Or he could opt out and pursue a bigger long-term deal elsewhere, much as Al Horford did in Boston last summer. It’ll be one of the most anticipated decisions of the offseason.
Execs Expect Gordon Hayward to Opt-In
Around the league, front-office executives say they expect that Hayward will opt-in.
“It’s too much money to pass up,” one general manager told Heavy.com. “He could get a longer deal if that is what he really wants. But I don’t think the Celtics want to give it to him, they have a lot of young guys to pay and the starting (salary) number on whatever the contract is will not be close to $34 million. He can opt in this year and then take a big contract next year. When you look at what he has done since his injury, he has only gotten better. He could get better next year and be ready for the summer of 2021.”
That’s when a lot more teams will have cap space, including potential contenders like Toronto, Miami and the Lakers. Those teams are expected to vie for Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. Hayward could position himself as a quality consolation prize.
Hayward’s numbers in Boston have gotten much better since he suffered a broken ankle in his first game with the Celtics. He improved over the course of the season last year and averaged 11.5 points on 46.6 percent shooting (33.3 percent 3-point shooting).
More Favorable Free-Agent Landscape in 2021
Another front-office executive, from the Western Conference, told Heavy.com that even before the coronavirus forced the NBA into a suspended season, he expected that free-agent conditions will give Hayward an easy decision. The only X-factor is whether Hayward has an agreement in place with the Celtics to opt-out and sign a longer deal.
“There wasn’t going to be a whole lot of free-agent money on the market this summer no matter what,” he said. “That was always going to make it difficult to figure out how to opt-out and get paid. He could do that and re-sign with the Celtics and there may already be a handshake deal for something like that. I don’t know for sure but it would not surprise me.
“But that would probably cost him money, I am not sure the security of a longer deal would be worth the financial hit. I think that is true of most guys with player options all over the league. I can’t imagine all that many of them will be opting out.”
There only will be a handful of teams with free-agent money this summer and most of them are rebuilding teams like Detroit, New York and Charlotte. Hayward did sign an offer sheet with Charlotte when he was a restricted free agent in 2014, but Utah matched the deal. It’s conceivable he’d sign there again, but a longshot. One rebuilding team that is close to turning a corner and might be well-suited for Hayward will have ample space next offseason: the Hawks.
Outside of Atlanta, though, it’s hard to find a good better fit for Hayward than accepting the $34 million for next year from the Celtics.