BOSTON (CBS) — Gordon Hayward has opted out of his contract with the Celtics. But just because he is now a free agent doesn’t mean he won’t end up back in Boston.
There is still a very real chance that Hayward is done with the Celtics. And there is a very real chance he leaves town and the Celtics are left with nothing to show for it.
That would be a massive disappointment, since Hayward is a darn good player and the Celtics are better when he’s on the team. Injuries have derailed his three-year run in Boston, but when he’s healthy, he is a do-everything player that helps Brad Stevens’ system go. Losing him subtracts a talented two-way player from a team hoping to compete for a title in 2020-21.
But again, there is a chance that Hayward returns. No one knows what is going to happen when free agency opens up at 6 p.m. on Friday — including Hayward.
Hayward's opt-out viewed more as a formality. League source said it's still possible he returns to C's in restructured deal, unless, ala Al Horford, he receives home run offer from Atlanta or New York. "Gordon doesn't even know right now."
— Mark Murphy (@Murf56) November 19, 2020
Hayward is famous for making his decisions at the last minute. We saw it when he first signed with Boston, with his announcement highjacking everyone’s Fourth of July, and we saw it Thursday when he went right up to his 5 p.m. deadline. So we may be waiting a bit for Hayward to make up his mind once again.
But there are only three options for Hayward and the Celtics now that he is a free agent:
Hayward Signs Elsewhere, Celtics Get Nothing
This would be a bummer. Hayward is free to sign a lucrative deal with anyone he wants, and there are reportedly a few teams out there that may be willing to give him a lot of money.
The Knicks cleared a boatload of cap space this week and will reportedly make an aggressive push to sign Hayward. The Atlanta Hawks also have a ton of cap space and could use a player like Hayward as they look to climb out of the NBA basement.
Would Hayward want to go to either of those destinations, both of which are known more for their losing than their winning lately? Only if he wants a bigger role and a lot more money.
That would leave a giant void on the Celtics depth chart and very little wiggle room to fill it. Hayward leaving wouldn’t give Boston $34 million to work with, since the C’s are already over the cap. Instead, it would open up the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception at $9.3 million (rather than the Taxpayer MLE of $5.7 million). Danny Ainge could probably be able to get a decent player for that, but not anyone close to Hayward.
Hayward signs an extension with Boston
If Hayward does like it in Boston and is OK with his role, he could sign an extension that gives him a few more years of security. It wouldn’t be a max deal, but the Celtics own his Bird Rights, so they could sign him back even if it keeps them over the cap. They can’t spend the money elsewhere, so bringing Hayward back for a few more years (at a much cheaper rate) is really one of their best options.
Work Out A Sign-And-Trade
If the Hayward marriage is over in Boston, the other option that would be beneficial to the Celtics would be working out a sign-and-trade. If Hayward doesn’t want to play for the Knicks or Hawks, he and the Celtics can look for a situation that work out for the two sides, with Boston getting something in return for the forward.
The Indiana Pacers have long been rumored to be interested in Hayward, but can’t sign him outright based on their cap situation. This is where a sign-and-trade comes into play, and could land the Celtics a good player in return, potentially Indy big man Myles Turner.
It’s a move that remains on the table as of Friday morning, according to Mark Stein of the New York Times.
Indiana continues to explore sign-and-trade pathways to try acquire Gordon Hayward from Boston, league sources say
The Knicks, as covered here yesterday, remain a suitor for Hayward with their salary-cap space
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) November 20, 2020
Buckle up, Celtics fans.