The Boston Celtics did it. And someone actually decided to go to the Eastern Conference this summer. After the arrivals of Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap in the West, Gordon Hayward has bucked the trend by agreeing to join the Boston Celtics.
There was plenty of drama surrounding the decision. ESPN’s Chris Haynes initially reported the move, with a slew of other reporters soon confirming the deal.
But it soon came out that Hayward hadn’t actually made his choice yet:
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
Had Hayward actually decided? Most likely, although it seems it was an agonizing decision:
League source tells me "Gordon has changed his mind four times in the last four days"
— Tony Jones (@tribjazz) July 4, 2017
Source says "this has been the most difficult decision of Gordon's life"
— Tony Jones (@tribjazz) July 4, 2017
Multiple sources would be needed to confirm this kind of news, though, and it’s unlikely that there was complete miscommunication over Hayward’s decision, let alone whether it had even been made.
When trying to make sense of this situation, it seems as though the news broke too early and Hayward’s team wanted to be able to control things themselves and make an announcement on their own terms.
One thing is for certain … there was confusion galore:
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
There was even this from the Jazz’s team president during the madness:
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
But, ultimately, after several hours, Hayward announced on The Players’ Tribune that he indeed was heading to Boston. The deal is for four years and $128 million, per The Vertical’s Shams Charania. The fourth year is a player option.
After all that waiting, we now have the free agency we were all waiting for. Once Chris Paul was traded to Houston, Hayward was the best free agent on the market that anyone thought could actually change teams.
Unfortunately for the Utah Jazz, they never got the chance to reach the pinnacle of the up-and-coming Gordon Hayward-Rudy Gobert era. This decision sends them down the stacked Western Conference playoff picture in an instant, all while giving Danny Ainge the win he desperately needed after missing out on trades for Butler and George.
Without George, the Celtics don’t have the dream scenario of superstar firepower, defense and versatility that they wanted to really compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East. But nevertheless, they’ve done a fantastic job by bringing Hayward to Boston to reunite with his college coach in Brad Stevens and at least somewhat swing the outlook of the league.
For the Celtics’ offense, this is huge. Again, it’s likely not enough to get them on LeBron James and Co’s level or into the NBA Finals, but it’s enough to take some of the pressure off Isaiah Thomas and make the team far more balanced. Boston scored 14.4 fewer points per 100 possessions last season when Thomas was off the floor, leaving them with less free throw opportunities, less penetration and less creation off the dribble.
Hayward addresses that weakness after the best season of his continually improving career. He had career highs in points (21.9), rebounds (5.4), made 3s (two per game), true shooting percentage (59.5) and a host of advanced stats. I won’t bore you by reeling them off.
Simply, Hayward was fantastic. He has such a smooth offensive game, whether he’s spotting up from 3, driving to the rim, turning and pulling up from mid-range, fading in the post or operating as a pick-and-roll ballhandler (where he very impressively ranked in the 87th percentile last season). The Celtics need everything he has to offer. And after he put together such a strong season and scoring average with just 15.8 shots per game, it’s clear that he can do even more if he’s given a few extra opportunities. Throw in his frequently underrated defensive impact, IQ and effort, and he can be argued as a top-15 player in the NBA.
If the Celtics missed on Hayward in free agency after seeing all their coveted stars get traded elsewhere, this summer would have been a huge disappointment for the franchise. Even though it’s not quite as amazing as fans may have hoped for, they’ve got a brilliant two-way star to look to next season in Hayward as they spice up the Eastern Conference a bit.
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