Gordon Hayward Stuns Celtics With Opt-Out, Could Leave for East Rivals

Gordon Hayward of the Celtics (left).

Getty Gordon Hayward of the Celtics (left).

For months of speculation and countless proposed trades that might have brought the Celtics an All-Star addition, either at center or elsewhere, in the end, Gordon Hayward has put Boston in the worst possible position. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Hayward has chosen to opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent.

Hayward is now free to sign with any team in the league, and on Thursday, New York Times writer Marc Stein reported that the Knicks, surprisingly, were making a strong push to give Hayward significant money. Hayward has also been rumored to have interest from the Hawks, a team that is closer to establishing itself as a playoff contender, as well as the Hornets, a team with which Hayward once signed an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, which was matched by Utah.

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Had things gone as the Celtics had hoped, Hayward would have opted into the final year of his contract with Boston, signed when he joined the team from Utah in 2017. That year would have paid him $34 million and would have given the Celtics the flexibility to trade him and get a significant return.

Celtics Could Still Work a Sign-and-Trade With Hayward

It is still possible that the Celtics can work something out with Hayward, on one of two fronts.

Boston can re-sign him to a new deal that will start at less than the $34 million he was going to make next year but will pay him for more years, probably something in the three-year, $90-95 million range. But if that had been the case, Hayward and the Celtics likely would have already agreed to that deal.

Hayward’s original option date was Tuesday at 5 p.m. Both sides agreed to move the date back to Thursday, fueling more speculation that the team and Hayward had agreed to a trade that would send Hayward elsewhere while assuring the Celtics got something in return.

The Celtics could still orchestrate a sign-and-trade deal with Hayward, allowing him more options in free agency and, again, giving the Celtics the chance to get something in return for Hayward. There has long been speculation that Hayward would like to return to Indiana, where he grew up and still maintains a residence, though there is some question as to whether the Pacers are eager to bring Hayward home.

“It’s the logical spot for a deal,” one league source told Heavy.com this week. “They want to give Hayward what he wants and going back to Indy would be one thing on that list. But the Celtics don’t want to give up Hayward if (Myles) Turner is the only thing they get in return. And you look at where those two teams are and where they’re going, it is hard to line up the right contracts. I think they’re going to keep trying.”

Gordon Hayward Would Leave an Underwhelming Legacy in Boston

If Hayward does leave in free agency and the Celtics get no return on him, it will bring a rather miserable end to Boston’s foray into a hub of free-agent activity. The Celtics made a major score in 2016 when they landed Al Horford from the Hawks, the first major free-agent signing in team history. But Horford stunned the Celtics last summer by opting out of his contract early and bolting for Philadelphia.

Now the same could happen with Hayward, who was an even bigger signing for the franchise than Horford, in 2017. Three years on, and he, too, could be moving on with very little to show. Where Horford contributed mightily to the development of young Celtics Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Hayward was injured in his first game with Boston and never really found a great fit in the rotation thereafter.

And that does not even count Kyrie Irving, who also left after just two seasons in Boston.

It remains uncertain what Hayward will do from here. But he has left the Celtics in a decidedly precarious position.

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