Gordon Hayward’s time with the Boston Celtics officially has come to an end, just days after the 30-year-old opted out of $32.4 million to become an unrestricted free agent.
Hayward is signing a four-year, $120 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Last year, the Celtics lost Al Horford to a massive deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, while Kyrie Irving left for the Brooklyn Nets. This offseason, it’s Hayward who had a major offer waiting for him.
An average annual value of $30 million is eye-opening. Hayward is a great player, but many didn’t think he’d be able to find that kind of money on this year’s market. In hindsight, his decision to opt out of $32.4 million was telling. You don’t leave big money like that without the confidence of another significant offer waiting for you on the open market. As it turns out, the Hornets were waiting for Hayward.
This was always Hayward’s main leverage point. Boston needed to push for a sign-and-trade to land him in his reportedly-preferred landing spot with the Indiana Pacers. From a Celtics standpoint, it was essential that they try and do everything to get that done, because hanging over the negotiations was the possibility of Hayward walking out the door, leaving them with nothing. The latter element was completely out of Boston’s control, however. If Hayward wanted to go sign a $120 million deal, that was the end of the story. The Celtics weren’t going to sign him for that kind of money, and it’s not like Danny Ainge and Co. could force him into a sign-and-trade with Indiana. Well, Hayward maximized his leverage, and now he’s heading to Charlotte to play a much bigger role.
Hayward signed an offer sheet with the Hornets as a free agent in 2014 with the potential of heading south to play with Kemba Walker. It didn’t come to be, but this time around, Hornets principle owner Michael Jordan made the closing pitch to seal the deal, per ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
From Boston’s perspective, this is the worst-case scenario. The Hornets are planning to waive and stretch Nic Batum’s contract, according to The Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell, meaning the Celtics recoup zero assets. A sign-and-trade would have at least sent some value to Boston in return.
From Hayward’s perspective, he gets long-term security and a bigger role, two things he certainly valued approaching this offseason. There was speculation that Hayward would want to avoid situations like Charlotte, Atlanta or New York, but that clearly was not the case.
Boston’s offseason was on hold until it sorted out the workings of the Hayward situation. Now, the Celtics move forward with the possibility of having their full mid-level exception of $9.2 million. Regardless of a little added flexibility, this is a tough situation for Boston’s front office, but it’s tough to compete with the massive offer that was waiting for Hayward in Charlotte.