The Gordon Hayward saga will continue to drag out for at least a little while longer, but it continues to appear that he’s played his final game in green.
Hayward reportedly did not trigger a $34.2 million final-year option to remain with the Celtics on Thursday. He will be an unrestricted free agent and one of the top available names when free agency opens Friday, albeit in a market thin on deep-pocketed suitors.
The Celtics still own Hayward’s Bird rights and could potentially recoup assets by delivering him to his next team via sign and trade. Any team that can open the necessary cap space to sign Hayward outright wouldn’t need Boston’s assistance and the Celtics risk watching Hayward join Al Horford and Kyrie Irving as star players that have simply walked away the past two years.
There is also the unlikely scenario in which Hayward re-signs on a longer-term deal to come back to Boston. But if that avenue had been desirable, it’s likely we’d know by now that the team and player were working towards that goal.
Instead, it appears that Hayward is operating with knowledge that other teams are willing to offer him long-term security. A team like the Atlanta Hawks could have the cap space to sign Hayward outright while teams like the New York Knicks have also been rumored to have interest.
If Hayward simply yearns to return home to Indiana and the Pacers desired to acquire him, Boston and Indiana could work towards a deal. But the Pacers wouldn’t desire to part with high-quality assets in that instance.
If Hayward simply signs into cap space, the Celtics won't have any immediate space of their own to sign a player of his caliber. The team would position itself to avoid the luxury tax and would have both a more valuable midlevel exception ($9.3 million compared to the $5.7 million taxpayer midlevel) and the biannual exception ($3.6 million) to chase talent on the free-agent market.
Hayward’s potential departure weakens Boston’s overall talent and takes away an All-Star-caliber player that often brought out the best in the young core of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
It would also end three snake-bitten years in which Hayward was rarely healthy when the Celtics needed him most.
Once the biggest free-agent signing in team history, Hayward was a fourth option on last year’s team. He was upstaged at his own introductory press conference when the team acquired Kyrie Irving and Hayward suffered a gruesome ankle injury on opening night that defined his time in green.
In other Celtics news on Thursday …
* Enes Kanter triggered a $5 million player option. Kanter might not have been able to fetch that same dollar amount on the open market but now leaves himself open to being dealt in a trade. He’s expendable if the Celtics desire to lean heavier on Robert Williams and Grant Williams, or if the team further bolsters its big-man depth chart when free agency opens.
Kanter’s salary could be helpful in any trade that might bring back a veteran player to bolster Boston’s bench. If the Celtics strike out in adding a big man, Kanter could be back in an energy role if the team continues to lean on a center-by-committee approach.
* The Celtics declined to extend a qualifying offer to Brad Wanamaker, making him an unrestricted free agent. The move signals the team is likely ready to let 2020 first-round pick Payton Pritchard and 2019 second-round pick Tremont Waters compete for a spot at the end of the point guard depth chart behind Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart.
While unlikely, Wanamaker could still re-sign with Boston — similar to how he was retained a year ago — but the team not extending the qualifying offer allows him to see what’s available on the open market while the Celtics free a roster spot.
* Boston has a couple of nonguaranteed salaries on their books in Daniel Theis ($5 million) and Javonte Green ($1.5 million).
The Celtics have until Saturday before Theis’ contract becomes guaranteed — a no-brainer given his production last season. They have until February with Green but he could be let go sooner if the team needs to clear roster spot for incoming rookies or free-agent signings.