Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has declined the option for the final season of his four-year contract and will become an unrestricted free agent, a league source confirmed Thursday.
This does not necessarily mean that Hayward’s time in Boston has come to an end, although it makes it more likely. The Celtics and Hayward could still come to terms on a long-term deal at a lower annual average salary. They also could orchestrate a sign-and-trade to send him to a team that does not have the salary-cap space to sign him outright. Or Hayward could elect to sign with a team that has salary-cap space, such as the Hawks or Knicks.
According to a league source, as of Thursday evening Hayward had not informed the Celtics that he intends to depart. Free agency is slated to begin at 6 p.m. Friday.
Although Hayward was due to make $34.2 million this season, that number is expected to be trimmed considerably because of revenue losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. So there could be advantages for Hayward to lock in a long-term deal, with revenues expected to return to normal next season.
Hayward initially faced a Tuesday deadline for his contract decision but he and the Celtics agreed to push it back to Thursday to give added flexibility to both parties, and to let Wednesday’s draft provide a clearer picture of roster constructions. This unusual and condensed offseason has left little time for such big decisions.
On Wednesday night, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he was mostly giving Hayward space to make his decision.
“He knows us, he knows me, he knows this whole situation and he weighs that against his other options,” Stevens said. “That’s part of a player option, so that’s not too dissimilar to what we’ve been through in the past. So we’ll see again how that plays out.
“But those conversations, you spend so much time together that I think it’s appropriate, from my point of view, to make yourself available, if need be.”
Celtics center Enes Kanter, meanwhile, opted into his $5 million deal for this season Thursday, a league source confirmed. Kanter could still be a candidate to be traded.
Also, the Celtics declined to give backup point guard Brad Wanamaker a qualifying offer, so he will become an unrestricted free agent. According to a league source, that does not necessarily mean that Wanamaker’s tenure in Boston is over. The Celtics could re-sign him, and that prospect would become more likely if Hayward leaves, the source said.
Finally, the Celtics extended qualifying offers to two-way contract players Tremont Waters and Tacko Fall, making them both restricted free agents.
Several dominoes will fall in the coming days, but Hayward’s final decision likely will need to be the first.
When the forward signed with the Celtics in the summer of 2017, reuniting with Stevens, his former college coach at Butler, it was viewed as a coup for Boston. He was expected to team up with All-Stars Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford to make the Celtics an NBA title contender. But plans and expectations can be fickle in the NBA.
A month later, Thomas was traded to the Cavaliers in the deal that brought Kyrie Irving to Boston. That move actually raised expectations even higher, but just five minutes into the season opener against the Cavaliers, Hayward suffered a gruesome left ankle injury that sidelined him for the entire season.
He never truly found a rhythm as he worked to regain his form the following year. And by that summer, both Irving and Horford were gone.
But Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have emerged as rising stars, essentially relegating Hayward to the fourth scoring option behind them and Kemba Walker.
This past season was Hayward’s most promising as a Celtic. He averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists, shooting 50 percent from the field. But it turned into another injury-marred campaign. He sprained his ankle in Game 1 of the opening-round playoff series against the 76ers and did not return until the conference finals.