The Celtics lost Gordon Hayward to the Hornets on Saturday, as the small forward reportedly agreed to a four-year, $120 million deal with Charlotte.
Even though Hayward spent much of his three seasons in Boston missing time due to injuries, his departure is still a hit to the team. After struggling to regain his All-Star form in the 2018-19 season, Hayward bounced back this past year. He averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, showing some signs of the player he was prior to the gruesome ankle injury he suffered in his first game as Celtic.
Here’s what the Celtics can do next after losing Hayward:
Will the Celtics get anything in return for Hayward?
It appears that the Celtics will not get anything in return from the Hornets for Hayward. When Hayward’s signing was first reported on Saturday, the Hornets had roughly $19 million in cap space, meaning they would have to shed some salary in order to make room for Hayward’s deal.
Instead of giving a player to the Celtics through a sign-and-trade, the Hornets will waive forward Nicolas Batum in order to fit Hayward under the salary cap. Batum was scheduled to make $27 million, and by using the stretch provision, the Hornets will be paying Batum $9 million over the next three years instead.
Hayward signing with a new team outright was the worst possible scenario for the Celtics because they will not get anyone back in return. Saturday’s news also comes as a bit of a surprise after it was reported Friday that Hayward told the Celtics he wanted to join the Pacers. In order to acquire Hayward, the Pacers would have had to agree to a sign-and-trade because they were well over the salary cap. Some combination of Myles Turner, Victor Oladipo, T.J. Warren, Aaron Holiday, and Doug McDermott were rumored to be going to Boston if Hayward signed with Indiana.
The Celtics will not get any of those players that would have likely contributed.
Do the Celtics gain back the cap space with Hayward’s contract off the books?
While Hayward’s $34.2 million max salary is off the books, the Celtics don’t gain another max slot with him leaving. Moreover, the Celtics are currently over the $109.1 salary cap for next season. The Celtics’ salary for next season currently sits at $109.28 million, which includes the cap holds of first-round draft picks Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard as well as restricted free agents Tacko Fall and Tremont Waters.
So, the Celtics won’t be able to sign anyone with cap space. However, if there is any good news for the Celtics with Hayward’s departure, they will not be at the luxury tax line. If they signed Hayward to the reported contract he signed with the Hornets, they would’ve been right at the tax line for next season.
With the Celtics not at the luxury tax, they can use the entire $9.3 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception, allowing them to still sign a reasonably decent player off the free agent market. They also have a smaller $3.6 million bi-annual exception they can spend.
Which begs the question…
Who can the Celtics sign?
Hayward’s departure is obviously a blow to the Celtics’ perimeter. While they still have the talent there in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, they don’t have great depth at the wings. The only other shooting guards or small forwards the Celtics currently have are Marcus Smart, Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford, and Javonte Green.
The bad news for the Celtics is that there aren’t many quality shooting guards and small forwards left on the free-agent market. The two top remaining shooting guards, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, are likely to get offered more than the $9.3 million exception the Celtics have, according to ESPN’s NBA insider Bobby Marks.
The Celtics don’t need to spend the exception on one player. Former Celtic E’Twaun Moore and Kent Bazemore are projected to sign between $4-6 million contracts for next season, making them possibilities.
For forwards, Markieff Morris, and Ersan Ilyasova remain. Morris played a key role coming off the bench for the Lakers on their title run while Ilyasova backed up Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton in Milwaukee this past season.
If Smart slides into the Celtics’ starting lineup this season, they’ll likely need a point guard to back up Kemba Walker. Veteran point guards Jeff Teague and Reggie Jackson present possible options to partly use the exception on.
And of course, the Celtics’ need for a big man still looms. Luckily for Boston, there are plenty of quality big men remaining.
The Celtics had reported interest in Paul Millsap, but it appears he’s heading back to Denver. Veteran big men Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, and Tristan Thompson are on the market and are potential options to sign for the full exception. With their championship experience, they could help add a veteran presence to a young squad looking to reach those heights.
The Celtics could also reunite with Aron Baynes. The center played two seasons in Boston prior to getting traded to Phoenix prior to this past season. He’s on the market and is projected to make $6-8 million this upcoming season, according to Marks.
Boston could also go the younger route by signing Malden native Nerlens Noel or 22-year-old Harry Giles, who was a freshman at Duke the same season Tatum was there.
If the Celtics do use their mid-level exception, it looks like they’ll be able to sign a quality big.
What else can the Celtics do this offseason?
The Celtics could always add players via trade. Stars James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall have all reportedly requested trades over recent weeks. However, Westbrook and Wall wouldn’t make much sense for the Celtics considering Westbrook’s big contract and Wall’s contract and injury history. They also of course have Walker, so they don’t need a star point guard right now.
Harden makes some sense for the Celtics, considering he’s still playing at a near MVP-level. However, the Celtics were reportedly advised not to trade for Harden. A trade for Harden would also likely mean the Celtics would have to give up Brown and Smart, further hurting their perimeter depth with Hayward’s departure.
Outside of trades, the other big move the Celtics can make this off-season is sign Jayson Tatum to a contract extension. Tatum, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent after this season, is a “lock” to get a max extension from the Celtics, according to the New York Times’ Marc Stein. A max contract extension for Tatum could be worth $195 million over five years. The Celtics and Tatum have until Dec. 21 to agree to an extension or Tatum will become a restricted free agent next offseason.
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