Celtics’ star/near-star exodus continues with Gordon Hayward

0 Comments

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Celtics have won at least one playoff series each of the last four seasons. They’ll probably win another this season. And the season after that. And the season after that.

Which is quite remarkable considering Boston keeps losing good starters.

After Kyrie Irving and Al Horford left in free agency last year, Gordon Hayward bolted this year. With young rising stars who continue to grow and such good coaching, the Celtics remain strong. But breaking into the NBA Finals gets more difficult as lost talent accumulates.

The big fear: This year’s setback contributes to Boston eventually losing franchise players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

That might sound silly in the same offseason Tatum signed a max contract extension. But that extension contains a player option after the fourth season – a key concession by the Celtics.

Hayward’s departure also makes it more difficult for Boston to contend for championships in the coming years. Tatum (2025) and Brown (2024) will each determine what they value as they approach unrestricted free agency. But the safest way to impress stars into staying is winning, and that’s where Hayward’s departure stings.

Is Hayward worth the $120 million the Hornets will pay him over the next four years? No.

But he’s worth far more than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception that became available with his departure, especially for a team ready to win now.

The Celtics used the MLE on Tristan Thompson, a solid addition (when healthy). He provides size and experience at center they were lacking. But center is also the most easily replaceable position league-wide. That only increases the magnitude by which Hayward was a bigger loss than Thompson was an addition.

Jeff Teague (one year, minimum) replaces Brad Wanamaker as backup point guard, a key role with Kemba Walker banged up. To be an upgrade over Wanamaker, 32-year-old Teague must show more life than he did with the Hawks last season. Maybe that’ll happen on a better team.

Boston also sent two second-round picks to Charlotte to turn Hayward’s exit into a sign-and-trade, creating a $28.5 million trade exception. That can be an extremely valuable tool – though trade exceptions often go unused, especially by already-expensive teams like the Celtics.

Glass half-full outlook: Boston trading real assets to create the trade exception indicates a genuine intent to use it. Glass half-empty outlook: Boston traded real assets to create a trade exception that might not get used. Ultimately, it’ll depend who becomes available.

But this could be getting close to the end of this chapter of the Celtics loading up.

For the first time in what feels like forever, Boston no longer has a surplus of future first-round picks.

The Celtics drafted Aaron Nesmith No. 14 and Payton Pritchard No. 26. Then, Boston whittled away its last extra first-rounder in depressing luxury-tax maneuvering that proved largely irrelevant with Hayward leaving, sending out the No. 30 pick to unload Enes Kanter.

If Hayward wanted to leave, the Celtics were nearly hopeless to stop it. In fact, they might have tried by rejecting a sign-and-trade offer from the Pacers, hoping Hayward would instead stay in Boston.

If Thompson were the best player available for the mid-level exception, the Celtics were right to sign him. It’s too easy to say they should have instead added wing depth without actually naming a wing who would’ve taken Boston’s MLE.

If the player option just couldn’t be negotiated out of Tatum’s extension, the Celtics were better off signing it than letting him hit restricted free agency. He could have signed an even shorter offer sheet.

Sometimes, teams are just pressed into tough situations.

But I’m grading outcomes, and Boston’s present and future around Tatum and Brown – while still bright – looks significantly dimmer.

The Celtics’ depth, already an issue, is shallower now. Though Tatum and Brown can handle even larger roles with Hayward gone, there was real value in overwhelming teams with wing options.

Assets are being depleted. The treasure trove of extra first-round picks is empty with not quite enough to show for it.

That a team can be in such good shape after this offseason shows just how advantageous a position Boston was in. But everything is relative.

Offseason grade: D-