Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics are taking a gamble. A day after Gordon Hayward opted out of his $34 million deal, the Celtics run the risk of getting nothing in return for the former NBA All-Star. Multiple reports have said the Indiana Pacers are Hayward’s preferred destination, but the Pacers don’t have the required cap space to sign Hayward. If Hayward wants to return home to Indiana, the best way is via a sign-and-trade with the Celtics, but reports have said Ainge’s asking price is much too high.
Gordon Hayward struggled in Boston
Expectations for Gordon Hayward were sky-high after the Boston Celtics signed the former Utah Jazz All-Star to a four-year, $127 million deal in 2017. Hayward, however, saw his first season in Boston go up in flames minutes into his first game. He landed awkwardly on his ankle, shattering it, and missed the entire season.
Hayward was never the same. He returned for the 2018-19 season, coming off the bench. He played in 72 games, starting just 18. Hayward averaged 11.5 points per game and shot 46% from the floor.
His best season in Boston was this past year when he started in all 52 games in which he played. He averaged 17.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game during the regular season. Hayward was injured again in the first round of the playoffs and missed most of the postseason with another ankle injury.
Hayward opted out of the last year of his deal
The fourth year of Gordon Hayward’s deal with the Boston Celtics included a player option. Hayward was scheduled to make $34 million for the 2020-2021 season. On Thursday, Hayward announced he was opting out of the final year of his contract, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Hayward’s decision raised a few eyebrows. There were just three teams – the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, and New York Knicks that could offer Hayward a deal that would pay him the $34 million he was walking away from. Would the veteran Hayward want to play for a team that wasn’t playoff ready?
Opting out of his deal doesn’t necessarily mean his time is over in Boston. He could negotiate a new team with the Celtics, taking less money this season but extending the length of his contract. He could also sign a deal with any team willing to sign him. The Celtics could also sign him and trade him to a destination of his choice.
Hayward’s preferred destination is the Indiana Pacers
According to NBA Insider Shams Charania, Gordon Hayward is “fully focused and wants to sign a deal with the Pacers.” If Hayward has his heart set on playing for the Pacers, it’s good news for the Celtics. The best way for that to happen is for the Celtics sign him and trade him and get something in return. The Pacers don’t have the salary-cap space to sign Hayward and could do so only if they trade someone.
According to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, the Pacers are interested in Hayward as well. They have supposedly offered Myles Turner and Doug McDermott. The Celtics are starving for a big man and Turner would solve some problems.
Washburn, however, has reported that Celtics GM Danny Ainge is insisting on Turner and either T.J. Warren or Victor Oladipo. That’s one heck of an asking price for someone who could walk away and leave the Celtics with nothing. Ainge seems like he’s playing hardball, but if Hayward has his sights on Indiana, Ainge could aim him and see if the Pacers will bite.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.