It’s crazy to think Gordon Hayward would decline his $34.1 million player option next season. That sum of money is an insane amount for any player, especially one who’s dealt with injuries the past few seasons.
However, on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Ryan Ruesillo said opting out is Hayward’s preferred option contingent on the Celtics offering a long term extension. If Ruesillo is correct, Hayward prioritizes a long-term deal over going into free agency after next season.
Why would he opt-out?
NBC Sports gives two reasons why Hayward should try to avoid the 2021 free agency. First off, the 2021 free agency class is loaded. Headlined by Giannis Antetokoumpo, teams might be looking to spend their money elsewhere. Following Giannis is Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, all with player options. Suppose the Clippers season goes awry. Leonard and George could both be seeking new homes next summer. Some other high-level players are also free agents, such as Jrue Holiday, Victor Oladipo, Kyle Lowry, and Rudy Gobert.
Because of his injury history, Hayward falls low on that pecking order. In the past, he would fall into the category with Holiday, Oladipo, and Lowry, but he hasn’t reached his level of play that of his Utah days.
Next, the 2020-2021 season is going to hit every team financially. While teams are pushing for fans in arenas, there is no doubt revenue will be lost. It’s a matter of how much owners can recoup. With the combination of less money floating around due to the pandemic and a stacked class, Hayward’s thinking makes a lot of sense.
For the Celtics, they are in an interesting position. Lessening the $34.1 million hit helps with flexibility in acquiring a big man or another player to help out with the bench. However, that would also mean keeping Hayward on a deal that goes possibly four years down the line. The Celtics might want Hayward’s contract to expire to get him off the books altogether.
It depends on what juggling the Celtics can do with the cap to get a big man. If they can sign Tristen Thompson for cheap, maybe they don’t have to extend Hayward and let him play out his option. Thompson probably is the best option with his combination of defensive versatility and experience, but the Cavaliers are keen on keeping him.
There is Thompson’s more expensive teammate Andre Drummond. In that case, the Celtics could offer Hayward a long-term deal to afford Drummond. Honestly, Drummond doesn’t push the Celtics championship needle that much further. If the goal is to get someone to compete with Bam Adebayo and Joel Embiid, Drummond is not the option (Embiid owned him in their “rivalry” when he was on the Pistons).
The best option at center might be Al Horford funny enough. The Sixers convinced Horford to leave, but he is not a great fit. Bringing Horford back gives them an intelligent big who can match Embiid’s strength and Adebayo’s quickness. Horford even did a great job against Giannis Antetokoumpo.
Some deal involving Hayward and Horford swapping could benefit both teams. Celtics get a big familiar with their system, and 76ers get an injection of ball-handling and shooting. If it doesn’t work out, the Sixers let Hayward walk.
Hayward’s intention of looking for a long term deal is financial security. However, he only will opt-out if he is guaranteed an extension. The question is, will Boston give him that contract?