At 2:17 p.m. on our nation’s birthday, Celtics fans rejoiced like the colonists after the Surrender of Yorktown, having read the 15 words they’d been desperate to hear all offseason.
ESPN NBA reporter Chris Haynes had tweeted them out: “Free-agent Gordon Hayward plans to sign with the Boston Celtics, league sources tell ESPN.”
Free-agent Gordon Hayward plans to sign with the Boston Celtics, league sources tell ESPN.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 4, 2017
Eight minutes after that, the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach followed up: “A league source confirms the Celtics have signed Gordon Hayward.”
A league source confirms the Celtics have signed Gordon Hayward.
— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) July 4, 2017
Five minutes after that, The Vertical’s Chris Mannix confirmed it and ESPN.com posted a story with the headline: “Gordon Hayward picks Boston Celtics over Utah Jazz, Miami Heat.”
Let the rejoicing begin, right?
Not so fast.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the George Washington of breaking NBA news, put a damper on the flames, quoting Hayward’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, saying “Gordon hasn’t made a decision yet. We are still working through it.”
Gordon Hayward's agent, Mark Bartelstein, tells ESPN: "Gordon hasn't made a decision yet. We are still working through it."
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 4, 2017
Next it was Himmelsbach’s turn to quote Bartelstein saying, “That was the goal (announcing today), but now we’ve got to kind of regroup here a bit.”
Hayward's agent Mark Bartelstein on whether final word is coming today: "That was the goal, but now we've got to kind of regroup here a bit"
— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) July 4, 2017
Then factor in A. Sherrod Blakeley of CSNNE, who quoted Bartelstein saying “(Hayward is) upset someone would report that. He’s trying to re-evaluate everything.”
Just spoke w/GH'sagent, says his client hasn't made a decision, is "upset someone would report that. He's trying to re-evaluate everything."
— A. Sherrod Blakely (@SherrodbCSN) July 4, 2017
Suddenly Twitter was alight in speculation. Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune reported that a source told him, "Gordon has changed his mind four times in the last four days."
League source tells me "Gordon has changed his mind four times in the last four days"
— Tony Jones (@tribjazz) July 4, 2017
By 3:02 p.m., just 45 minutes after Hayne’s initial report, Jazz President Steve Sarks posted: “We trust Gordon and his agent that no decision has been made. Good communication all day and a great relationship.”
We trust Gordon and his agent that no decision has been made. Good communication all day and a great relationship.
— Steve Starks (@StevenStarks) July 4, 2017
Then came radio silence. Until about 8 p.m., when Hayward posted on The Players' Tribune: "After seven years in Utah, I have decided to join the Boston Celtics."
Thank You, Utah. https://t.co/ICfocNeZfW
— Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) July 4, 2017
He prefaced the first-person essay by noting "today definitely been one of the craziest days of my life. But I wanted to make sure that I got this right." He went on to talk about his connection to coach Brad Stevens, "Coach Stevens and I found ourselves at a crossroads together. And again, he was the person I knew I could count on the most."
Tuesday night's announcement still leaves a few questions to answer:
Is he worth it?
Reports have Hayward signing a four-year, $127.8 million max contract, with an opt-out after the third year, when Hayward would reach 10 years in the league and be eligible for a super-max deal.
With Al Horford one year into a four-year, $113 million deal, and the starting backcourt of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley approaching free agency in a year, is it wise for the Celtics to spend more than $30 million on a one-time All-Star?
The short answer is yes. Hayward made a significant leap last season, particularly in his efficiency and outside shooting. He finished with averages of 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 47.1 percent from the floor, his best mark since his rookie year, when he saw limited minutes.
He raised those numbers to 24.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists in two playoff series, despite suffering from food poisoning in a first-round win over the Clippers. Hayward’s career averages are 15.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists, with a quick glance at his numbers showing an encouraging upward trend.
He can play either shooting guard or small forward easily, and at 6-foot-7 could be used as a small-ball power forward in the type of small lineups Stevens is fond of (or forced into by roster construction, depending on how you look at it). He's a passable defender and the type of player who can get his own shot, something the Celtics were sorely lacking in the playoffs.
Who will the Celtics have to trade?
This is where things get interesting. When the salary cap number was officially revealed to be about $2 million lower than expected, it meant Boston couldn’t easily come up with the cap space for a max deal.
They start by pulling the qualifying offer to Kelly Olynyk and renouncing free agents Jonas Jerebko, James Young and Gerald Green. Then they waive Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson. Amir Johnson already signed with the 76ers. That left the Celtics with about $28 million in caps space while retaining seven of their 10 best players. It all seemed so simple. Then the cap came in low.
Now, the Celtics will have to trade either Marcus Smart or Terry Rozier to free up funds, and dealing Rozier still leaves them $1 million away from offering Hayward the max.
So in order to sign Hayward, the Celtics likely have to deal Smart, the No. 6 pick in the 2014 draft and a defensive bulldog who has struggled to find a consistent shot on the offensive end.
What does this mean for the No. 3 picks?
Hayward would join a group of swingmen that already includes Bradley, Jae Crowder and 2016 and 2017 No. 3 overall draft picks Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Is there enough playing time to be had for those four, even if Crowder ends up playing more minutes at power forward? And that’s not including promising second-round pick Semi Ojeleye, who appears to be a Crowder-in-training.
Both Brown (29 points, 13 rebounds) and Tatum (21 points, five steals) looked great against the 76ers and No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz on Monday night, but that’s Summer League and should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt. Brown had played in the Eastern Conference Finals, while only two of the players the 76ers were running out there had even been NBA draft picks. Tatum's pull-up jumper to put Boston up in the final seconds proved his potential on the offensive end.
Ainge likely sees the Hayward signing as his chance to trade away Bradley, whose is entering the last year of his contact and is the team’s final tie back to the Big 3 era. He’s also reportedly shopped Crowder around the league, although he’s on an affordable contract for two more years.
Does Ainge see a 2019 lineup featuring Hayward-Brown-Tatum on the wing with Thomas at the point and Horford in the paint?
Who knows, but at least one question was answered on Tuesday: Hayward is headed East.
Follow Brendan Kurie on Twitter @BrendanKurieSCT