BOSTON (CBS) — Gordon Hayward was having his best season as a member of the Boston Celtics before the coronavirus pandemic put a halt on the 2019-20 NBA season. The 30-year-old forward was setting himself up to get another nice payday after the season, if that was the path of his choice.
But at the moment, it doesn’t appear Hayward will go the free agency route this summer. Several executives around the NBA expect Hayward to exercise his $34 million player option for 2020-21, including one who spoke to Heavy.com over the weekend.
“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.”
Hayward was shooting over 50 percent for the season, averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists as Brad Stevens’ do-it-all player on the floor. Though he did go through a few frustrating stretches, he looked much more like the max player Danny Ainge signed three summers ago than the one recovering from a devastating injury.
That may have been enough to convince another team to give him another big-money deal, but he likely would have earned less than the $34 million he’s slated to make with Boston. Plus, more teams will have cap space in 2021, when stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Anthony Davis are slated to hit the open market. Hayward doesn’t fit in the same category as those players, but he could be seen as a good complementary piece — or a decent backup plan — for teams going after those big fish.
So it would seem as though opting in is a no-brainer for Hayward. But another unnamed NBA executive threw out the possibility of Hayward opting out, only to then re-sign a long-term deal at a friendlier price tag for the Celtics. That would give Hayward some stability and Boston an important player at a much better price — plus some wiggle room to sign its young stars (ahem, Jayson Tatum).
“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.”
It remains unclear if the NBA will be able to finish the 2019-20 season, which creates even more uncertainty for all 30 teams and players throughout the league as they try to manage their owns futures. But from the sounds of it, Hayward will be wearing Celtics green for at least one more season.