Hayward has an array of landing spots in free agency. He’s suddenly one of the biggest names on the market, and he’s got plenty of options. A sign-and-trade is still possible, as is an extension with the Celtics, or he could sign outright to a team with cap space – two have already been reported to have an interest: the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks.
Having turned down such a whopping yearly salary, there must be a long-term commitment on the horizon for Hayward. This is looking like a similar scenario to Al Horford‘s shock contract with the Sixers last offseason. Three years and $80 million feels as high as Hayward is going to get, but both the Hawks and the Knicks could go longer and higher if they want to. Maybe a surprise team comes in with four years and $100 million to blow everyone else out the water.
Boston will hope a team without cap space can convince Hayward to join them. A sign-and-trade becomes a necessity in that scenario, rather than cap space clearing for the Hawks or Knicks. Staying on the court might be an issue, but Hayward is still a productive player. He scored over 17 per game last season, plays solid defence and shot over 38% from three. A bit like Jrue Holiday, he’s a player who fits on every team. Players who can shoot the long ball, pass, handle it a bit, create their own shot and defend multiple positions are invaluable.
Hayward is going to have options as a free agent even with such limited cap space around the league.
Remaining with the Celtics is not out of the question. Danny Ainge holds Hayward’s birds rights – the Celtics can go into the luxury tax to offer the former All-Star a contract extension. Boston have limited financial flexibility in seasons to come with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum‘s extensions kicking in alongside Kemba Walker‘s contract, which could motivate them to pay for a fourth star while they can.
On the other hand, Hayward will be looking for a three or four-year deal. He’s not proven he can stay healthy during his time in Boston. It would be understandable if Boston are wary of committing to Hayward long-term.
The Hawks are looking for veteran help alongside Trae Young. Hayward’s defence will be an upgrade for them. His passing will be useful to use Young off-ball, and it takes some of the play making burden away from their stable of young wings. Celebrating his 31st birthday in March, Hayward doesn’t fit Atlanta’s timeline, but a move like this would be a sign of a team pushing for a playoff spot in 2021.
Since appointing Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks are obviously looking to be less bad next season. Rumours of a Russell Westbrook trade would suggest they are keen to be a postseason team in 2021. Hayward would come in as their best player, and he’d take some of the pressure off RJ Barrett. He brings shooting, which the Knicks are so desperate for alongside Obi Toppin, Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.
It’s not infeasible for the Knicks to head into next season with Westbrook and Hayward on the roster. If Houston are keen on salary relief, the Knicks could send the surplus to requirements Julius Randle and Kevin Knox to Texas in return for Westbrook and sign Hayward to a three-year deal in the $75-80 million range.
The Charlotte Hornets are another team who could show interest in signing Hayward outright. They have the cap space, but they’ll have to outbid the Celtics, Knicks and Hawks to get him and that’s hard to justify for a team so far from contention.