What does Gordon Hayward’s decision to leave the Boston Celtics for a four-year, $ 120 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets mean to both teams in free agency?
Hayward traded a bit of immediate salary for a lot more long-term guaranteed money under the new contract, reported on Saturday by my ESPN colleague Adrian Wojnarowski, when he decided Thursday to decline a $ 32.4 million player option for 2020-21.
Will adding Hayward and No. 3 overall pick LaMelo Ball help the Hornets return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016?
And how can the Celtics regroup after losing a third high-profile free agent in the past two years? We’ll see.
Charlotte speeds up the rebuilding process, but to what end?
An offseason after losing Kemba Walker to Boston in free agency, the Hornets thought they were on a slower long-term trajectory as they rebuilt around their young players. Two in particular stood out: second-year guard Devonte ‘Graham burst out replacing Walker as the starter, finishing fifth in Most Improved Player voting (he got my first-place vote), and as a rookie, No. 12 pick PJ Washington. started 57 of 58 games, earning Second Team Rookie honors.
Then Charlotte added what I consider the most talented player in the 2020 draft when they rose to No. 3 in the lottery and Ball slipped to that pick. Certainly Ball is a long-term proposition for the Hornets. At 19, having played just 13 games in the Australian NBL in the past year and a half, Ball is unlikely to help Charlotte win this season. Developing it behind the starting backcourt of Graham and Terry Rozier seemed like the right play.
Instead, the Hornets again proved incapable of resisting the siren call of a .500 record. I wonder to what extent Charlotte’s aggressiveness was informed by the team fools’ golden finish as ninth in the Eastern Conference after the Washington Wizards went 1-7 in seeded games to fall behind the Los Angeles Wizards. Home hornets in the final classification.
Because the race for eighth in the East was more of a sprint race than a sprint, Charlotte appeared to be on the sidelines of the playoff chase. The Hornets’ point differential tells a very different story: They were outscored by 6.7 points per game, better than just the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers in the East. In terms of her WL record, Charlotte surpassed her expected Pythagorean total by four wins.
The bad news for the Hornets is that eighth place could be harder to come by next season. With the return of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets probably won’t languish below .500 again, while the Wizards win back John Wall and the Hawks are loading free agents this offseason. It would be one thing if Charlotte’s continued failure to plan for the future resulted in consistent playoff appearances. Instead, the Hornets have done it just three times in the 16 seasons since they were reborn as an expansion franchise in 2004, two of which resulted in quick exits through sweeps.
Hayward could prove costly in the long run
In the short term, Hayward should improve Charlotte’s wing rotation. His 6.1 wins over replacement player (WARP) by my metric would have ranked second on the Hornets last season behind Graham (7.4). Rozier (4.7) was the only other Charlotte player to produce more than 1.5 WARPs, with a starting small forward Miles Bridges rating just at replacement level (0.1) during his second season.
The problem is, the Hornets are paying Hayward as an All-Star for the life of this deal, which takes him to 34. If he stays healthy, Hayward’s combination of size and ability should age reasonably well, as he has a chance to remain a useful role player well beyond his prime years. Charlotte doesn’t pay for an RPG player, however, and players most similar to Hayward at the same age according to my SCHOENE projection system still lost a third of their value between year one and year three of a multi-year contract. .
Adding to the cost is what else the Hornets are doing to sign Hayward to this deal, as they entered the day with approximately $ 19 million in salary cap space, including unsecured contracts for Graham and second-round picks from 2019 Caleb Martin. and Jalen McDaniels. At most, Charlotte could reach $ 21.4 million without a trade or stretch of a contract and needed a minimum of $ 27 million to make this deal as reported.
The solution, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, is for the Hornets to give up Nicolas Batum and stretch their maximum cap of $ 27.1 million for the next three seasons, putting $ 9 million in dead money on Charlotte’s books each year. Extending Batum will reduce the Hornets’ cap space next offseason, which is in the $ 20-30 million ballpark pending a possible extension for Graham.
It’s particularly ironic for Charlotte to stretch the salary of Batum, a veteran winger the team re-signed to a luxurious five-year contract, to give Hayward similar treatment. The Hornets could have put a smaller amount of dead money on their books by resigning and stretching center Cody Zeller, who owes $ 15.4 million this season, or trying to send Zeller to the Celtics in a sign-and-trade deal.
Boston shopping with mid-tier non-taxpayer
When we expected Hayward to make his player choice, Boston’s biggest concern was managing his luxury tax bill. Well, good news for the Celtics: They have nearly $ 30 million to spend before hitting the tax line now. Boston is free to use the entire $ 9.3 million non-tax mid-tier exception.
The problem for the Celtics is that the market already seems to pick up less than 24 hours after the opening of free agency on Friday. There certainly isn’t a player of Hayward’s caliber available for Boston, particularly on the wing. The Celtics might be better off looking to add in center, where Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are still available, as is Tristan Thompson. I would also be intrigued if Boston added power forward Paul Millsap, who would give the team more size at the position.
If the Celtics are going to add a wing, they better go the trade route. Even if the Hornets draw Batum, it’s best for Boston to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal to create a trade exception valued at Hayward’s 2020-21 salary. The two parties reached a similar understanding last year, delivering Walker and Rozier to their new homes.
Paying Hayward $ 30 million a year would have made the Celtics uncomfortable with the luxury tax. Still, make no mistake, his departure weakens Boston’s quest to return to the NBA Finals, pending additional moves.