SALT LAKE CITY – Getting Gordon Hayward to leave Utah after seven seasons to come to Boston was not easy.
Clearing enough salary cap space to sign him to a max salary contract hasn’t been a walk in the park, either.
Boston has already renounced its rights to Kelly Olynyk, a key offensive spark off the bench with his ability to score from the perimeter.
Now it looks as though the Celtics will have to trade away one of its elite defenders in order to continue shedding salary.
And the three targets most teams have focused on, are Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart.
Terry Rozier is also available, but the market for the aforementioned players has been much stronger.
While each player has established themselves as above-average defenders (all three received votes for making the all-NBA defensive teams), they each have piqued the interest of teams for different reasons.
Bradley, a member of the all-NBA First team defense in 2015-2016, will earn $8.8 million in the final year of his four-year, $32 million contract.
When he hits free agency in the summer of 2018, the Celtics will be hard-pressed to pay him the kind of salary his talents (somewhere in the range of $20 million or more per season) will be in line for.
So trading him now and getting something in return, makes a lot of sense for Boston.
And then there’s Crowder, who will earn $6.8 million this season. The 6-foot-6 forward has displayed the kind of versatility that has been instrumental to Boston’s rise the past couple of seasons to where they were able to finish with the best record in the East and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
Although he has three years left on his contract, the five-year, $35 million deal he signed last summer has him ranked among the best bargains in the NBA which his why the demand for Crowder will be pretty high.
The challenge for Boston is to strike a deal that will enable to create the $29.7 million slot they need for the first year of Hayward’s four-year, $127.8 million contract.
And then there’s Smart, a talented perimeter defender who is still on his rookie contract (he’ll make $4.5 million this season) but is eligible for an extension.
While he has struggled throughout his career shooting the ball, his defensive instincts are exceptional and because of that, he tends to help teams far more than his offensive struggles hurt them.
“Boston has to unload one of those three,” a league source texted CSNNE.com on Wednesday. “And to be candid, it really doesn’t matter which one. All three of them, no matter where they end up, will help a team.”