By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Gordon Hayward took a calculated risk opting out of the final year of his $34.2 million per year contract with the Celtics.
It’s one that certainly paid off for the 30-year-old wing, too, as he successfully turned passing on that 2020-21 salary into a $120 million, four-year bag from the Charlotte Hornets, and is finally in Charlotte by way of a sign-and-trade with the Celtics.
The move didn’t necessarily blindside Danny Ainge and the Celtics. But given Hayward’s close relationship with C’s head coach Brad Stevens dating back to their Butler days, it was a necessary topic of conversation during Hayward’s Charlotte intro Tuesday.
“This was something that was unlike any other situation I’ve been in, certainly with the timing and everything and how quick everything escalated and how hectic and chaotic everything was,” Hayward admitted. “[But] after speaking with family and my agent and speaking with the Hornets organization and hearing more and more about their vision and where they see this team going, it was really powerful. It made me really think more and more about it [and] it was something I wanted to be a part of.
“I decided to just opt out and go for it.”
Now, this wasn’t the first time Hayward found himself wooed by the Hornets. (Is he the first player the Hornets have tried to woo on two separate occasions? Has to be a legit question, right?) This was actually the Hornets’ second shot at Hayward, as they first signed the Indiana-born scorer to a $63 million offer sheet in 2014. But that would-be failed to come to fruition as the Jazz matched their offer, and retained Hayward through his career-year 2016-17 campaign.
But that initial pursuit clearly stuck with Hayward.
“I never forgot the commitment and the potential that [Hornets owner] Michael Jordan and the organization saw in me when they gave me an offer sheet,” Hayward noted. “That for sure was one thing that was always in the back of my mind.”
And from there — six years after their original agreement — all it took was a look at the Hornets’ current pieces and a chat to see how they could get him back to where he wants to be in this league.
“As the whole thing started going, the vision that the organization had, the front office as well as coach [James] Borrego of where this team could go, how they believed they could utilize me and where I fit in to all that and the impact that they believed I could have [sold me],” Hayward said. “Maximizing the impact that I could have and helping this team get to the next level was really enticing, really powerful and something I want to be a part of. It’s something that as I was going through this process and thinking more and more about it, it was just something that I really wanted to do.”
Perhaps most telling — and something alluded to by Ainge when discussing Hayward’s exit — was the chance Charlotte presented to Hayward in terms of freeing him up from the logjam that was there throughout his Boston run.
Losing an entire season to a devastating ankle injury suffered in the first quarter of his Celtic debut, Hayward jumped back into the mix in the middle of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum emerging as the Celtics’ best options at the wing. Kyrie Irving was also in his second season as Boston’s undeniable ball-dominant guard and No. 1 scoring threat.
And with a would-be superteam failing to meet expectations on their way to a second-round exit, there just wasn’t a lot of time to get Boston Hayward back to Utah Hayward.
It didn’t get any easier this past season, either, as Tatum emerged as a legit superstar while Hayward continued to battle the horrible injury luck that took him in and out of the Celtics’ rotation at a mind-numbing rate.
Had Hayward opted in for 2020-21, he would’ve been the Green’s No. 4 scoring option at full strength.
That, based on the way Hayward views himself after averaging 17.5 points per game and shooting a career-high 50 percent from the field, was never going to be of significant interest to No. 20.
“Certainly, the situation I was in with Boston, we had a lot of great players,” Hayward, doing his best to dance around the uncomfortable reality of the situation that left neither party satisfied, offered. “We had a great team and I was kind of in a different role than I was prior to the injury. I tried to make the most of that and I think statistically, my agent would tell you that had a better season efficiency-wise than I did my last year when I was in Utah. I think I’m still more than capable of being that player and want to be that player. I’m just excited for this new opportunity and new challenge in my career.
“I still think I’m in the prime of my career and I think it’s going to be a great challenge.”
Ty Anderson and Matt Dolloff talked about Gordon Hayward and much more in the newest episode of the Sidelines Podcast on Wednesday. Have a listen below.