If you’re a Celtics fan disappointed in the way the three seasons you got with Gordon Hayward turned out, don’t worry, you are not alone. Hayward, it turns out, is disappointed, too—”frustrating and disappointing” is how he described the end result of his Boston career.
Still, as Hayward told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on the Woj Pod this week, he considered staying with Boston for at least one more year, by choosing to opt in for the final season of his contract (at $34 million), a real possibility right up until he had to make the decision to turn down his deal for the 2020-21 season.
“It was certainly an option and a very good option, I think,” Hayward said. “Talking with Mark (Bartelstein, Hayward’s agent), it was one of those things where he and I felt like there were other opportunities out there and let’s explore those opportunities. At the end of the day, we felt like the other opportunities were our best bet.”
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The opportunity, of course, turned out to come from Charlotte, which gave Hayward a four-year, $120 million offer. Not only did the Hornets offer a sizable deal, but the team would give him the opportunity to be a focal point in the offense, a role he had lost as the Celtics saw the rise of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, in addition to the signing of point guard Kemba Walker.
“That 100% played a role in what I was thinking,” Hayward said. “I felt that I could still be that person and felt like going to Charlotte, I would certainly have more responsibility and something that I think I wanted to try to maximize who I was as a basketball player again.”
Hayward Signed Max Deal With Celtics in 2017
Hayward, who signed a four-year, $126 million max deal with the Celtics in the summer of 2017, only played three years for Boston, missing all but five minutes of his first season when he shattered his ankle in the season opener of the 2017-18 season. He struggled to work back into the rotation the following year and, finally healthy in 2019-20, found that his role had been reduced by the emergence of the Tatum-Brown combination.
He found that his free agency was entirely different than when he first signed in Boston, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that forced a hiatus last season and, eventually, saw a hurry-up schedule for the start of this season.
He decided to opt out on November 19, and by November 21, signed with the Hornets. He described it as a, “whirlwind,” and said:
It was completely different. We were told in the bubble that it wouldn’t start until the end of January—middle of January, end of January. But then you hear rumblings, maybe it is going to be before Christmas, which only makes the free agency seem even quicker. And so, at the same time, I am trying to still rehab from the ankle injury from the bubble.
I am trying to with Mark—this is really why you pay your agent—to be able to handle situations like this. I don’t remember the exact timing but free agency hits and what was it, like, 10 or 12 days from when training camp started? So then you have to talk to teams, I had to figure out whether I wanted to do there. Then get on the phone and you’re doing Zoom calls, calls with different teams and front offices, trying to figure out what’s the best place for me and my family.
Hayward Expected to FInish Career With Celtics
Hayward said that, when he signed with Boston, he assumed he would finish his career there, alongside his college coach, Brad Stevens. He could not foresee the upheaval the Celtics would have shortly after the trade for him, when the team acquired Kyrie Irving, nor the injuries both he and Irving (knee) would suffer.
“Absolutely. I am not somebody that likes a lot of change or likes moving from city to city or team to team,” Hayward said. “We were making a decision for me to play my basketball career out. At the time, actually, I had signed in Boston, they still had Isaiah Thomas. It would have been me, IT, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder. It was kind of a different team than when I signed there.
“But with Brad, I felt like this would be where I was going to spend the rest of my career.”
Alas, it was not, but there is a silver lining for Hayward. The Hornets, after a 2-5 start, have gone 10-8 and now sit one game behind Boston in the standings. Even at age 30, Hayward is averaging a career-high 22.9 points, with 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists. He is shooting 42.5% from the 3-point line, also a career-high.