BOSTON (CBS) — Gordon Hayward left the Celtics for a mammoth payday from the Charlotte Hornets. But money wasn’t the only reason Hayward turned his green jersey in for all that green.
Celtics president of basketball ops. Danny Ainge discussed Hayward’s departure for the first time Tuesday morning during his chat with 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich, and said that the C’s really wanted Hayward back this offseason. But in his talks with Hayward, Ainge said that it was clear that the player wanted something the Celtics couldn’t offer him: A much bigger role on the team.
In Charlotte, Hayward will be one of the top scoring options for the Hornets. In Boston, he was No. 4 on the pecking order behind Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker. That’s a big reason why Hayward decided that he wanted to play elsewhere this offseason.
“We set out to try to get Gordon to come back. That was our No.1 goal of the offseason; he’s a terrific player,” said Ainge. “I think he preferred to go somewhere else. He made his choice to go to Charlotte. Not sure what else to say about. There was a lot of discussion and hope till the end that he would return. But he preferred to be a more featured player and Charlotte was paying him a lot of money.”
Hayward is the third star player to leave the Celtics via free agency in the last two years, with both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford bolting last summer. Kyrie went home and signed with the Brooklyn Nets, while Horford opted out and signed a big-money deal with Philadelphia.
Losing free agents isn’t a great look for the Celtics, especially for a team that had zero luck in free agency until a few years ago. But Ainge said those departures have a lot more to do with each of the personal situations of those players, and not with the culture with the Celtics.
“I think that all three of those individuals had completely different experiences and perspectives and reasons. All different,” said Ainge. “I know that a couple of those individuals — or at least one of them — would do anything to get back. We have many, many players that have spent time here, left, and have asked to do all they could to get back to Boston.
“I don’t think it’s anything in the culture,” Ainge continued. “A lot of it, we know, is about how much you get paid, the opportunity you have on the court and what your opportunities to win are. Some players have different priorities and are in different phases of their career. I don’t think its that complicated.
“Some players prefer living in a different city for family reasons or to make their lives more simple. Some people choose to live in sunshine, We can only control hat we can control Not worried about what our players think because overall I think our players think very highly of the culture,” he said.
Ainge said that trade talks with the Indiana Pacers for Hayward were greatly exaggerated, and the assumption that the talks fell apart because he was asking for too much in return are not true.
“That’s not even close to fair,” he said. “I’m not defensive of that; if you don’t know what I know then you don’t know at all what happened. I prefer not to talk about what trade proposals teams make; 99 percent of all trade conversations are one team or another thinking the other team is asking too much for their player,” he said. “We intended to keep Gordon, and knew what all of the options were.
“Any trade that came along had to be a trade we wanted; not to just let Gordon go to where he wanted to play,” said Ainge. “It had to be good for the Celtics, good for the business, luxury tax, personnel… There were a few teams we did talk to and we just didn’t feel like any of them were worthwhile for us to pursue.”
Ainge isn’t shocked that Hayward received a four-year, $120 million deal from the Hornets, as other teams that were looking to sign the free agent threw similar offers Hayward’s way.
And though losing Hayward subtracts a talented player from Boston’s roster, it wasn’t a total loss for the Celtics. They were able to work out a sign-and-trade with Charlotte, and Ainge now has the largest trade exception in NBA history — $28.5 million — to work with over the next year.
“It’s gravy. We can use it to sign three players to strengthen our bench. We’re not going to do anything right now because people love their teams and everyone has gotten better in the offseason. We’ll see how the season goes and see where we are. But we’ll have the ability to improve our team at the deadline or next offseason. It gives us another vehicle to acquire players we wouldn’t have otherwise had,” he explained. “We don’t want to take on a bad contract or aging veteran players. There are always bad contracts to be had, but we’re looking to acquire good players. At the same time, we’re looking to have our young guys get a chance to play.”
While losing Hayward is a blow to the 2020-21 Celtics, and the rest of the competition in the Eastern Conference has made moves to improve, Ainge still likes how his team looks heading into the new season.
“Every year, everyone gets loaded up. Every year at the deadline, everyone gets loaded up. It rarely turns out how the commentary insists,” said Ainge. “With Kyrie and Kevin Durant coming back in Brooklyn, the East is going to be different. But I don’t really see it as the East has changed a lot. I think we’re going to be better and I’m looking forward to this year. The best way for us to improve is for Jayson, Jaylen and Marcus to continue to improve and I think they’re improving.”