Report: Gordon Hayward bolting Jazz for Celtics

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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The Celtics have been linked to every frontcourt starKevin Durant, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins… – rumored to be switching teams the last couple years.

After signing Al Horford last year, Boston has reeled in another catch this year: Gordon Hayward.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

The Celtics must still figure out how to clear cap space for Hayward. They can unilaterally renounce all their free agents, including pulling restricted free agent Kelly Olynyk‘s qualifying offer, and waive unguaranteed Jordan Mickey. Convincing Guerschon Yabusele to remain overseas another year would help, as would dumping Terry Rozier and Demetrius Jackson.

But even all that would still leave Boston $283,366 shy of Hayward’s max salary. Would he take that small discount, or must the Celtics move a higher-impact player like Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley or Marcus Smart?

There’s still time to sort out the details. The most important thing: Boston landed a star before its cap flexibility vanished when pending free agents Isaiah Thomas, Bradley and Smart get big raises next year.

At best, Hayward immediately vaults the Celtics into the Eastern Conference’s top tier, true competitors with the aging Cavaliers. The 27-year-old Hayward can also show a little patience if asset-rich Boston must wait out Cleveland.

It’s a shame we’ll never see what these Jazz would’ve become. They built a strong roster around Hayward and Gobert, but injuries kept them from peaking last season, and Hayward’s departure short-circuits their run.

They’ve done almost everything right in the last few years – provide the support Hayward needed to work himself into stardom, formed an excellent basketball culture led by Coach Quin Snyder and acquired talented players. They just ran into a Celtics team that offered an even brighter future (with a talented deep roster and extra first-round picks that can be used to upgrade) and even better coach (Brad Stevens, who coached Hayward at Butler).

Still, Utah is somewhat culpable. The Jazz told Hayward to bring back an offer sheet in 2014 restricted free agency, and they matched a 3+1 deal from from Charlotte. If they had just given Hayward a five-year contract themselves, he still would’ve been locked up.

By now, there’s no reason to doubt Hayward as a max player. He blossomed in Utah, but is clearly ready to take the next step.

The Jazz appear headed for a step back. They still have Gobert, one of the NBA’s top young players, and they already agreed to re-sign Joe Ingles and traded for Ricky Rubio. Utah should still compete for a playoff spot, even in the loaded West, but Hayward’s departure significantly lowers their ceiling.

Likewise, the Heat – Hayward’s other main suitor – appear stuck in the NBA’s middle class for the time being. Miami could turn to re-signing its own free agents, Dion Waiters and James Johnson. But that team would have a considerably lower ceiling than one with Hayward slotted between Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside.