So this is how it ends. The Gordon Hayward Era in Boston began with great NBA fanfare back in 2017, the most prominent free agent the franchise had ever signed. It ends just three injury-marred seasons later, with Hayward planning to sign a massive, four-year $120 million contract with the Hornets.
Yes, the Hornets. Hayward has gone from being the biggest thing to happen to the Celtics in their free agency history to the biggest thing to happen to Charlotte in their free-agent franchise history.
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There is was hope that the Celtics could work out some kind of sign-and-trade with Charlotte, but the Hornets have the ability to create enough cap space to sign Hayward outright, so there is not much incentive to make a deal happen. And, given how much Hayward’s starting salary would be, there is not much the Celtics and Hornets could work out as far as a deal goes.
Around Boston, there is growing bitterness about the way the deal played out. On Friday, there were reports that the Celtics and Pacers were negotiating a sign-and-trade built around young Pacers center Myles Turner. The Pacers, according to the Boston Globe, wanted to send the Celtics Doug McDermott in addition to Turner. The Celtics wanted T.J. Warren or Victor Oladipo.
Things apparently went into a holding pattern from there, and the Hornets made their move.
Hayward, at least, had a message for the Celtics.
Entire NBA Stunned By Charlotte Hornets Move for Gordon Hayward
The departure of Hayward for Charlotte is stunning, not just for the Celtics but for the rest of the league. While it has been long known that the Hornets had an interest in Hayward, he had significant interest from teams that were much closer to being a contender than Charlotte is.
Atlanta was interested, and has cap space. The Knicks were interested and though they are not much of a contender themselves, they have some promising young players and do play in the Mecca of Basketball, Madison Square Garden. A decision to leave Boston for New York might have made more sense.
And there was the endless talk of Hayward’s interest in going back to Indiana, where he grew up and played his college basketball—at Butler, under the Celtics current coach, Brad Stevens. It was the presence of Stevens that helped draw Hayward to Boston. But it was not enough to keep him with the Celtics.
Hayward’s tenure will go down as a massive disappointment. He averaged 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 2016-17, his final season in Utah and only season as an All-Star, then left in free agency to sign with the Celtics. He broke his ankle in the first game he played in a Boston uniform, and did not play again in 2017-18.
He was never 100% in 2018-19, averaging 11.5 points in just 25.9 minutes per game. He rounded back into form this season, but with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown establishing themselves as NBA stars, and with the Celtics landing Kemba Walker last summer, Hayward was reduced to the team’s fourth option. Still, he averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists last year.
Celtics Left to Clean Up After Hayward Mess
Now the Celtics are left in clean-up mode. They were never going to pay Hayward $120 million and though the team haggled with the Pacers over a sign-and-trade on Friday, Indiana was never going to pay him $120 million. Charlotte broke the bank for a player who is 30 and has had one moderately healthy season in the last three years.
The move takes some pressure off Boston’s salary situation, with a four-year, $115 million extension for Jaylen Brown kicking in next season and Jayson Tatum set to sign a maximum extension. The Celtics are free of the luxury tax and can afford to use its full, $9.3 million midlevel extension.
Boston will need to replace Hayward, which won’t be easy—the Celtics need to find a versatile wing who can handle some secondary point-guard work. There aren’t many of those around. But Boston has a raft of young players who might have a chance to step up in the absence of Hayward, most notably last year’s lottery pick, Romeo Langford, and this year’s lottery pick, Aaron Nesmith.
It is a surprising ending to Hayward’s stay in Boston. The Celtics will still be good, but they could have been better if they could have used Hayward as a sign-and-trade chip.
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