3 reasons why the Celtics shouldn’t trade Gordon Hayward

With the NBA trade deadline less than two weeks away, the rumor mill is really beginning to spin.

Gordon Hayward
If Gordon Hayward opts into the fourth and final year of his deal, he'll make just under $34.2 million during the 2020-21 campaign. –Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

COMMENTARY

With the NBA trade deadline less than two weeks away, the rumor mill is really beginning to spin. Naturally, the 29-14 Boston Celtics have been mentioned among the speculation. Despite his name coming up quite a bit over the last few weeks, I’m here to explain why Gordon Hayward should not be traded.

When things go poorly for the Celtics, Hayward, for whatever reason, becomes the scapegoat for a large number of fans on Twitter. Of course, that doesn’t account for the entire Celtics fan base, but for those of us who spend an unhealthy amount of time on the social media platform, it’s hard to ignore. Such was the case during Boston’s two separate three-game losing streaks in January, when many called for Hayward to be dealt.

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The 6-foot-7 forward isn’t solely brought into trade discussions when things start to trend in the wrong direction, however. Even if you disagree with the idea, like myself, it’s important to realize there’s logic on the other side.

Hayward is set to make $32.7 million this season and, if he opts into the fourth and final year of his deal, just under $34.2 million during the 2020-21 campaign (the Celtics’ biggest cap hit other than Kemba Walker). Boston isn’t set to pay Hayward long-term; the contract is now tradeable thanks to his increased value and a heavy number like that is perfect for salary-matching needs. It makes sense! But for the Celtics, it does not. Here’s why:

The current trade market is unappealing.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported in November that the Celtics were unwilling to part ways with any of their core players, which includes Hayward. That’s likely still the case, but that hasn’t stopped conjecture among fans. So for the sake of discussion, we’ll act as if the front office is open-mindedly entering trade discussions.

If the Celtics were to trade Hayward, who would it be for? Boston’s frontcourt is the target of most plans out there, and rightfully so. An upgrade at the center position certainly would help Boston, especially against a team like the Philadelphia 76ers. For salary matching purposes, Hayward would likely be included in a majority of the discussions, but the return simply would not be worth it.

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Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond – In short, no. Yahoo’s Vincent Goodwill reported that the Celtics had “registered interest” in the All-Star big man, which makes sense. Boston’s frontcourt could use a boost, so why wouldn’t they be interested in someone averaging 17.3 points and 15.7 rebounds on 53.1 percent shooting through 42 games? But losing Hayward in a deal for Drummond would not be worth it for Boston. The Celtics would likely be forced to re-up the 26-year-old on a long-term deal as well, something that would not benefit their future.

It’s worth noting that, despite Hayward’s big contract, this deal can’t be completed as a swap. Detroit is hard-capped like the Celtics, meaning a second salary from each team would have to be included in the trade. Either way, bringing Drummond in and losing Hayward wouldn’t make the Celtics any better.

Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner – Another intriguing option, but Turner’s $18 million cap hit over the next three seasons means you’d need a major piece heading to Indiana. He brings plenty defensively, but doesn’t present a ton of other upside where you’d be willing to give up Hayward’s versatility. In other words, you wouldn’t include Hayward, or another core piece for that matter, in a deal centered around Turner.

We could go through each option, but the bottom line here is Karl-Anthony Towns isn’t being shopped by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Until a player like him becomes available, the market is not prime enough to deal Hayward. Sure, there are other players out there that come to mind (looking at you, Davis Bertans), but none who you’d consider trading Hayward for.

Hayward brings invaluable offensive versatility.

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Hayward can play multiple roles on the offensive end, which is partially why he’s so valuable to this Celtics team. His ability to act as a playmaker at 6-foot-7 creates problems for opponents, but it more so gives Brad Stevens a multitude of options when it comes to rotations and lineups.

Boston’s depth has been an issue at times this season, but when with a fully healthy lineup, Hayward can provide help in that department. With or without Kemba Walker or Marcus Smart, Hayward can act as a primary ball-handler and facilitator when he’s not on the wing.

Watch here as he shows his effectiveness as the ball-handler in a pick-and-roll set with Robert Williams.

Hayward does a great job of being patient and under-control as he enters the lane, knowing his P-n-R partner is on his way to the rim. Once Williams is there, Hayward delivers a perfect pass.

Hayward has a similar half-court sequence here, working with Grant Williams against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Hayward uses his positioning to get Pat Connaughton on his back, creating enough space to make a nice bounce pass to Williams. Defenders in these situations need to stick with Hayward, as he’s shooting 47.9 percent on pull-up jumpers this season through 27 games.

Both of these pick-and-roll sets are small examples of Hayward’s high-level basketball IQ and court vision, which he puts to use in transition as well.

Hayward is able to push the ball using his north-south speed and kick out to Walker. It’s a simple possession that likely gets overlooked in the grand scheme of things, but Stevens being able to trust Hayward in spots like this is a huge plus.

Simply put, he can score the basketball in a variety of ways, and he showed that Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.

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Here, he uses an off-ball screen to disrupt Grayson Allen’s defensive route. Once he gets the ball, he explodes off the dribble and heads right to the rim.

He can give you a spot-up triple off the dribble, too. Enes Kanter sets a high-ball screen, creating just enough separation for Hayward to get off a shot.

He’s a great defensive fit.

There’s a misconception out there that the Celtics have a size problem. No, they’re not the biggest team by any means, but they make up for their lack of stature with a switching ability that most lineups don’t possess. That scrambling movement gives Boston the third-best defensive rating in the NBA through 43 games, and Hayward is a key part of this.

The combination of his 6-foot-7 frame and impressive athleticism makes Hayward the perfect match for Stevens’s switch-heavy schemes. Take Monday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers, for example. Boston doesn’t match up well on paper vs. the Lakers by any means, but with effective switching, it can combat Los Angeles’ bigger lineup.

Hayward got switched onto 7-footer JaVale McGee early in the first quarter but used his shiftiness to win the possession.

Hayward first forced McGee toward the baseline before the center returns to the restricted area to put a body on Hayward. LeBron James thinks McGee has established position in the mismatch and immediately feeds the ball to him underneath. Hayward’s quickness allows him to move around McGee, disrupt the passing lane, and force a turnover.

In this sequence, Daniel Theis gets caught on the perimeter, leaving his man, Serge Ibaka, open underneath. Hayward realizes this away from the ball, and quickly comes in to provide the help defense, gets the block, and sends Boston out in transition.

His footwork and quickness make him an effective perimeter on-ball defender, while his awareness, size and athleticism allow him to play a very good help defender and switcher. His versatile role in Boston’s defensive schemes is invaluable to its success.

I know – what happens if Boston runs into the Sixers in the playoffs? That’s a valid concern. If the buyout market presents an appealing, cost-effective traditional big later this year, the Celtics could waive Vincent Poirier and go that route. Another option would be trying to move some small pieces for someone like San Antonio’s Jakob Poeltl. Until then, the switches will keep coming!

If the arguments above are a bit much, I’ll leave you with this: Hayward’s averaging 16.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists through 27 games. His net rating on the season sits at 8.6, which is better than that of Walker, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Trading someone with those numbers for a potential short-term frontcourt fix wouldn’t make much sense at all.