BOSTON (CBS) — Last offseason, it was a bit of a shock when Al Horford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Celtics. That shock hit a lot harder when Horford left Boston for a lot more money and a few more years with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Could Gordon Hayward be planning on a similar move this offseason? That’s the buzz according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who discussed Hayward’s future on the latest episode of The Lowe Post podcast.
“There’s some buzz out there. And I can’t figure out what the buzz means,” Lowe said of Hayward’s potential free agency. “The buzz that I’m hearing is like the smoke, the smoke indicating that something is happening. I’m not sure what’s up, but I don’t think it’s a lock that Gordon Hayward is on the Celtics next year.”
Lowe cautioned that this is just “a little bit of buzz,” but that “something is mildly afoot here.” His podcast guest, former Brooklyn Nets assistant GM and current ESPN NBA insider Bobby Marks, says Hayward and his agent are following the Horford playbook.
“I think what his agent, Mark Bartelstein, is doing right now is canvassing the league,” said Marks. “He’s doing the Al Horford plan.”
Hayward has one more year left on his deal with Boston at a cool $34 million. He probably won’t get an annual salary anywhere close to $34 million on the open market, but he could snag some more job security with a long-term deal. Given his recent injury history, more security may be worth more to Hayward than another big-money season.
What this really sounds like is Hayward is doing his homework, and that is to be expected. The Celtics are likely doing to same, putting out feelers to see if any team may be interested in a Hayward swap. Even if Hayward wants to stay in Boston, or the Celtics want to keep Hayward, both sides would be silly not to see what’s out there.
But this little bit of buzz surrounding Hayward does carry a similar feeling to Horford’s eventual move. It was believed at first that Horford may opt out to re-sign a longer term, more team-friendly contract with the Celtics, and there are rumbles of the same with Hayward. But then Horford decided to sign on with Boston’s biggest rival in the East, agreeing to a four-year, $109 million deal.
It all kind of worked out for the Celtics, as Horford leaving freed up enough cap space to let the team sign Kemba Walker to a max deal last offseason. But Hayward opting out would not afford the team the same luxury this offseason; it would only open up the full Mid-Level Exception ($9 million) rather than $34 million in cap space.
So it remains in Boston’s best interest that Hayward opts in, since they probably won’t find a player of his caliber willing to settle for the MLE. Chances are that will be the move, with Hayward and the Celtics seemingly happy with their current situations.
But both sides are exploring every option at the moment, which is the right move when it comes to the business side of the NBA.