Gordon Hayward’s stint with Celtics didn’t go as expected, but there’s no real blame to be placed

Gordon Hayward’s time with the Boston Celtics has officially come to an end. On Saturday, it was reported that Hayward would be signing a four-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets after turning down the player option for the final year on his contract with the Celtics. The move concludes a turbulent, and underwhelming three-season stint for Hayward in Boston. Hayward ends his tenure with the Celtics having started in just one playoff game — probably not what either side expected when Hayward signed a four-year, $128 million deal with Boston in 2017. 

Hayward’s stint with the Boston Celtics got off to an extremely rough start, and unfortunately for both sides, it never got fully back on track. During the first quarter of his first game in a Celtics jersey, Hayward shattered his left leg in gruesome fashion. It was an injury that knocked Hayward out for the entirety of the 2017-18 NBA season, and one that he continued to deal with over the next two seasons. Though he was able to return for the start of the ’18-19 season, he started in just 18 games for the Celtics that season, and averaged 25.9 minutes per game — a big drop from the 34.5 minutes per game that he averaged during his final season with the Utah Jazz.

Hayward finally started to look like his old self during the 2019-20 season, as he started in all 52 regular season games that he appeared in, and averaged 33.5 minutes per game. However, in the meantime, the Celtics had developed two talented, promising young wing players that they had drafted in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Tatum has quickly blossomed into one of the brightest young stars in the league, while Brown has also developed into an All-Star-caliber talent. So, when Hayward returned to Boston’s rotation following the injury, he did so as just one of the team’s wing options, as opposed to their primary perimeter player, which is what he was projected to be when he signed with the Celtics in 2017.

That’s how things happen in sports sometimes. Injuries to one player represent an increased opportunity for others, and sometimes those players that step in prove to be even better than the players they replaced. Just ask Drew Bledsoe. You can’t blame Hayward for getting hurt, and you can’t blame the Celtics for pursuing alternate options after he was. And you certainly can’t fault Brown or Tatum for capitalizing on opportunity and reaching their potential.

Hayward is a consummate professional, so you wouldn’t necessarily hear about it if he was unhappy with the situation with the Celtics, but it’s very possible, likely even, that he had some reservations about staying in Boston and in turn continuing to face a reduced role playing alongside Tatum and Brown. Thus, you can’t blame Hayward for looking for increased opportunities elsewhere. Hayward probably wants to re-establish himself as the All-Star-caliber player that he was in Utah before the injury, and he wouldn’t have the chance to do that with the Celtics.

In Charlotte, Hayward will have a larger role than he would have had in Boston moving forward, and he quickly becomes one the faces of a franchise that lost its star player, Kemba Walker, in free agency last offseason — to the Celtics. He also gets the security that comes with a fresh, long-term contract. Had he opted into the final season of his contract with the Celtics and gotten hurt, he could have greatly damaged his market value. Can’t fault someone for “securing the bag,” as they say.

Given the fact that they already have two stud wings in Brown and Tatum, you can’t blame the Celtics for allowing Hayward to walk given how much money he was commanding on the market. For Boston, the money that would have gone to Hayward would be better allocated elsewhere — such as fortifying their frontcourt and bolstering their bench. 

Overall, Hayward and the Celtics should be able to go their separate ways without pointing fingers. The Celtics paid Hayward a lot of money, and helped him recover from a devastating injury, while Hayward gave the organization his all during his time with the team. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and in this situation, both sides may benefit from the split. 


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