Exploring Celtics' three options to solve Gordon Hayward conundrum
Forsberg: Options for the Celtics' Approach to Hayward's Future were originally posted on NBC Sports Boston
It seems like Gordon Hayward hijacked the July 4, 2017 Holidays just yesterday before finally confirming that the Boston Celtics won the tug of war for his services at the free agency.
Thirty-nine months later, Hayward has another decision to make, though that probably won't require a couple of 2,000-word Player Tribune entries to explain. It's very likely that Hayward will opt for the final year of his Celtics deal, which will earn him a sturdy $ 34.2 million for the 2021 season.
It'll also put the Celtics on the clock to see if Hayward is part of that team's long-term future, and that's a far tougher decision based on the team's bloated salary commitment as it tries to maximize a title window that this seemed to open year in light of the leaps Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown made.
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If Hayward lets his deal play off, there is a chance he could walk away without compensation at the end of the season. That's less than ideal for a Boston team that, given the wage obligation for their top talent, has limited resources to upgrade their squad.
Clearing Hayward's bulky salary after this season won't open any immediate wiggle room, as Brown's rookie expansion is about to kick in and Tatum's maximum renewal will almost certainly follow the following season.
The Celtics could always try to keep Hayward at a more comfortable salary number or explore ways to trade signs that could regain value, but that's a tough needle in a market that is unlikely to be short of teams with deep pockets Sign Hayward direct as a consolation prize for missing a harvest that could include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James.
Therefore, from now until the close of trading, the Celtics must at least consider all trading opportunities with Hayward. Let's be clear here: this doesn't mean the Celtics should move, or Hayward will move. The team's performance at the start of the 2021 season, as well as a better understanding of the salary caps, will have a huge impact on decision-making in Boston.
Let's examine all of the options from Boston:
PLAY OUT THE SEASON
Boston's hopes of fighting for a title this season may very well depend on Hayward's performance, and it could ultimately be the best move to see if that core can take another next step this season.
Keep in mind that there have been several tracks over the past season where Hayward got closer to the All-Star the team signed three years ago. In Boston's first eight games of the 2019-20 season, Hayward averaged 18.9 points per game while shooting 55.5 percent off the ground and 43.3 percent past the 3-point arc. He added 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists over 31.2 minutes per game before breaking his hand in a random collision during a game in San Antonio.
When the Celtics reunited in the bubble after the break, Hayward averaged 18.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists over 34.1 minutes per game in the Boston Seeding Games. Late in Game 1 of the first round of Boston against the Sixers, Hayward landed awkwardly and suffered a Class III sprain.
He returned for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against Miami and gave the Celtics a temporary jolt but looked limping the rest of the way, and especially in Game 6, which only confirmed that Hayward was easy despite trying to be tough not healthy enough for the intensity of the playoffs it was out.
The Celtics played some of their best offensive basketball games last season when Hayward shared the pitch with Tatum and Brown. In 661 minutes with this trio, Boston had an offensive rating of 115.4 and a net rating of plus 9.2. Take Hayward off and the Tatum / Brown lineup still had a similar net rating (plus-9.3) but the offense dropped five points per 100 possessions. The takeaway there is that the three wings coexist and can produce some of the best looking basketball players on the team via a large sample.
Perhaps more importantly, how important Hayward was in keeping Boston high when Tatum and Brown weren't on the pitch. In 297 minutes of the regular season with Hayward on the floor without the two Jays, the Celtics had a net score of plus-8.1.
Remove Hayward from the equation, and in the 257 minutes that all three players were off the ground, the Celtics had a net score of minus 14.8. Some of this can be chalked up into the minutes of garbage time with the starters from the game, but it also reflects the bank fights in Boston when Hayward was unavailable.
If the Celtics believe they can handle this core and show it off at the start of the 2021 season, all they may have to do is bite that bullet and worry about Hayward's future later.
Sign an extension
Both sides have at least some motivation to consider an extension as early as this off-season if Hayward decides to terminate his contract and re-sign for a more comfortable number. There is also a risk to both sides.
Hayward's best payday comes when he bets on himself, takes the payday of $ 34.2 million, and hopes a strong season positions him for his last major NBA off-season payday. On the other hand, it could be a tougher market if he is struggling with no guarantee that he will find applicants who match his desire to assert himself.
If the Celtics renew Hayward, there is no guarantee he will stay healthy enough to maximize what they pay him to. Hayward's age and injury status must be considered in the Boston decision. While most of his illnesses have been cumbersome, in his three seasons in Boston, Hayward has missed 111 of a possible 236 regular season games (47 percent) and 27 of a possible 41 playoff games (65.8 percent).
Hayward turns 31 next season and could be the oldest player on the Celtics roster until he maneuvers out of season. We don't call it ancient - though it was part of a deal involving Penny Hardaway, Charlie Ward and Stephon Marbury; Unfortunately, that was in 2004 when he was still a freshman in high school and the Knicks traded the choice with which Utah would ultimately acquire and select him in 2010 - but the point is, players don't usually end up becoming more permanent by the time they turn 30 Years old.
Add to that the following: Let's say Hayward grants $ 20 million per season, which will reduce the tax burden in Boston that year. In 2021-22, the Celtics would have allocated nearly $ 130 million for their Best 5 from Tatum, Brown, Walker, Hayward and Marcus Smart. It assures Boston will be in the wheel, leaving limited resources to build the rest of the roster. This is even more problematic if for some reason the Celtics don't compete with that group.
If the Celtics find their best way forward doesn't involve Hayward, or they just can't use the resources to keep it long-term, they should consider moving it before next season's close of trading.
This is no easy task considering that in a year, Hayward's bulky salary may stay the same as the cap and its value may decline due to his injury problems. All in all, he's a monster whose contract is slipping off the books of a team just before he sees what may be some of the best free agent harvests in recent history.
The Celtics can't benefit from this, but another team definitely can. And if it looks like the bucks are watching Giannis EuroStep leave Milwaukee, there will be plenty of teams trying to get the maximum amount of space to take up a chase.
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Go ahead and pull out a list of the highest paid players in the NBA and start daydreaming. Are you recording an extra season with Blake Griffin so the pistons can make even more room for the cap? Call the magic on Nicola Vucevic, who has three years left but is of descending value, and try to convince her that her best way is to shake up her own core?
It's difficult to make high wage moves during the season. And yet, teams that realize they have no hope at the start of next season will turn their attention to the free agency 2021. The Celtics might be additionally motivated to cut their tax burden if for any reason this team hisses.
There aren't any easy answers here for the Celtics, but Hayward's future will dominate the off-season chatter.
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