BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics gave their side of the Gordon Hayward divorce on Tuesday morning. Hayward gave his take on Tuesday afternoon.
And they both sounded very much alike. The bottom line is that Hayward wanted a bigger role, which was something the Celtics could no longer offer him So now he is in Charlotte, buzzing about being a member of the Hornets.
Hayward said that opting out of his $34.2 million option and leaving Boston was a tough decision, but there was no shortage of suitors for him on the open market. He landed in Charlotte because he believes the Hornets give him the best chance to maximize his potential as he enters what he sees as the prime of his career.
“It was obviously a tough decision. There’s no doubt about it,” Hayward told reporters on Tuesday. “It was a tough decision to leave Boston and a place where we were a really good team and right there, kind of on the cusp of it. But I think it was something [in Charlotte] where I wanted to kind of maximize my potential to help our team win. I think the opportunity and the challenge to do that was more and more enticing as I kept talking with these guys.”
The Hornets have been high on Hayward since 2014, when they sent a four-year, $63 million offer sheet to the then-Utah Jazz restricted free agent. Hayward went back to Utah in 2014, but when talking with the Hornets, he remembered how much Michael Jordan wanted him six years ago. Jordan made an even stronger push this offseason, prompting Hayward to push his agent to get a deal done with Charlotte.
That push landed Hayward a four-year, $120 million contract from the Hornets. Boston wanted him back, with Danny Ainge saying Tuesday that keeping Hayward was the team’s top priority this offseason, but settled for a $28.5 million trade exception in a sign-and-trade with Charlotte.
It ended a frustrating three-year run for Hayward with the Celtics, one that never had a chance to really get going after he suffered a devastating ankle injury just five minutes into his Boston career. When Hayward signed his max deal with Boston, he was set to be the team’s No. 1 or 2 option — first with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford and then a few months later with Kyrie Irving in place of IT.
But after Hayward went down to start the 2017 season, everything changed for him and the Celtics. Jayson Tatum was thrust into a bigger role as a rookie, and he thrived. Jaylen Brown also emerged as a rising star that season and has only gotten better over the last two years. Kyrie and Horford may have left last offseason, but Kemba Walker was brought into Boston.
All of a sudden, Hayward was fourth on the Boston pecking order. The 30-year-old said that the chance for a bigger role on a promising young team in Charlotte was something he couldn’t pass up.
He doesn’t hold any ill will toward the Celtics, but made it clear that things did not go as planned in Boston.
“I had obviously a freak injury right when I got there and there’s a lot of things that were kind of out of my control when I was in Boston,” he said. “I had a great time there and still have great relationships with the people there, some of the players there and my teammates and coaches.
“I really loved my time in Boston, but certainly couldn’t be more excited about where I’m at now and looking forward to this next chapter,” he added.
That next chapter will include guiding a young roster in Charlotte, which just added LeMelo Ball with the No. 3 overall picks. Hayward should have no issues carving out a bigger role on the Hornets, but making the playoffs is no longer the guarantee it was in Boston. Charlotte hasn’t made the playoffs in five seasons, and hasn’t won a playoff series since the franchise returned to the NBA in 2004.
But after his conversations with Jordan and the Hornets front office, Hayward is convinced that Charlotte is his best fit at this stage of his career.
“The more and more conversations that we had, that I had with the coaching staff and with some of the front office guys of just the vision that they had, the impact that they believe I can have of helping us get to that next level — it’s very powerful,” said Hayward. “Although there were conversations with lots of teams for a sign-and-trade opportunity, it was one of those things where my agent was working on those and I kind of just told him, ‘Let’s do this thing in Charlotte. Let’s just get this done.'”