Why the Celtics may be a destination for Jazz forward Gordon Hayward next summer

Last night (or technically, early this morning) at midnight, the deadline for teams to reach contract extensions with fourth-year players came and went, meaning any player from the 2010 draft class that failed to reach an extension agreement will become a restricted free agent next summer.

As we mentioned last night, Avery Bradley and the Celtics failed to reach agreement by the deadline.

And so did the Jazz and forward Gordon Hayward — who many NBA folks thought would sign a lucrative four-year deal to remain in Utah.

So now the logical question becomes — could the Celtics be a possible suitor for Hayward? Let's take a look at the situation and figure out just how realistic a possibility it is.

Reasons it works:

Brad Stevens' relationship with Hayward - Remember the 2010 Butler team that came within a Hayward half-court buzzer beater of knocking off Duke? You know, this one?

It was Hayward taking the shot, and now Celtics coach Brad Stevens kneeling on the floor when it rimmed out. Stevens coached Hayward for both of his seasons at Butler, and they remain very close to this day. After Stevens was hired, rumors popped up of the Cs making a move for the 6'8" swingman, but nothing materialized during the summer. But once Hayward hits the open market, things could change. Suddenly the teams would not need to work out a deal, and Stevens could lead the charge in terms of recruiting Hayward to Boston. The Celtics have always had trouble luring free agents, but this is a rare case. Hayward is an Indiana kid who chose to go to school at Butler and has spent four seasons in Salt Lake City. Unlike true superstars, he may have a different wish list for a free agent destination.

The Money should work - Keep in mind, I'm saying should here. There were some rumors of Hayward getting a max contract (4 years, $61 million), but the Jazz ended up offering something more along the lines of $10-12 million per season, which Hayward declined.

Next summer, Hayward will likely seek a max deal again, but unless he has a really big season, he's unlikely to get $15 million per season. And if the price tag stays in the $12 million range — Boston should be able to afford that.

Take a look at the Celtics salary situation. As of now they have $50.15 million in salary obligations for next season. With the cap expected to be right around $60 million, that leaves them about $10 million in space. If the Celtics do decide to keep Bradley around, that will likely eat up quite a bit of that space. But if they decide to let him go there suddenly is just about enough space to get a deal done.

There is also a strong possibility that Danny Ainge moves someone (or possibly more than one) from the trio of Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, and Gerald Wallace before next summer. If any of those guys are moved, Boston could find themselves in a position to retain Bradley and bring Hayward aboard. If I had to guess, Bass is the most likely guy to go. Lee is not good, and no team is going to take on his $16.3 million price tag through 2016, and Wallace is owed so much money ($30.3 million through 2016) that even if he plays well it may not be enough to get another team to bite. Bass on the other hand is only signed through 2015, and has enough value as a defender and efficient offensive player that he could be a fit for a contending team (paging the Houston Rockets).

If Ainge could dump Bass, that would then give Boston just over $16 million in space. If the team really wanted Hayward (or another free agent) bad enough, they could also use the Stretch Provision on Wallace. The Stretch Provision allows a team to release a player and pay their contract out over double the length of the remaining years + one extra year. With Wallace that would mean playing him $4 million per season over five years rather than paying him $10 million per year over the last two years of his deal. Would this be a healthy way of utilizing $4 million in cap space for half of a decade? Probably not. But if Ainge and Stevens see a Rondo + Bradley + Hayward + Sullinger + Olynyk + a million first round picks as a legitimate core..they may pull the trigger on a move that would give them an extra $6 million in cap space for both 2014-15 and 2015-16.

A sign-and-trade is possible - Bradley for Hayward? Bass (expiring in 2015) and two first round picks for Hayward? Olynyk, Bass and a 1st for Hayward? S&T's are impossible to predict this far out, but even if Utah doesn't view Hayward as a guy they want to commit big money to, they may not be willing to simply let him walk. That's where trade possibilities come in, and as a team in a similar position to the Celtics (just beginning a rebuild), they'll be looking for good young players (Bradley, Sullinger, Olynyk) or first round picks. The Celtics have plenty of both, opening the door for a S&T.

Reasons it may not work:

The Jazz have the rights to match - Just like with Bradley and the Celtics, the odds are always in the favor of the restricted free agent staying put. The players' current team has the ability to offer a little more money (in this case 4 years, $61 million compared to 4 years, $58.5 million), an extra year (Utah can offer five years next summer), and to match any contract offer any other team puts in. Acquiring any restricted free agent is difficult, which points towards Bradley being in green next year, but also points towards Hayward staying put in Utah.

The Celtics have Jeff Green - Ah, Jeff Green. A living roller coaster. Green starts off terribly last year after getting $36 million, people say he's the worst player in the league. "NO HEART!", "WHAT A BUM!", "HE'S NO PERKKKK".

Green then plays his ass off for 40-45 games, and he becomes a part of the future. "HOW COULD YOU TRADE GREEN!", "HE'S THE IRONMAN!", "GREEN AND RONDO FOR LIFE".

Green has a horrific pre-season (wait people really reacted this strongly to pre-season? Yes, yes they did): "GREEN IS SOFT", "LAST YEAR WAS A MIRAGE!", "WHY DIDN'T AINGE TRADE HIM ALREADY??".

Now Green scores 25 points in the opener -- and the roller coaster is about three more good games from viciously swinging up again.

Now I'm here to try and see if we can have some rational discussion on Green. Some facts on Green:

- At this exact moment, he is the Celtics best player. Until Rondo returns, Green is the focal point of the offense and is by far their most talented player on that end of the court.

- At $9 million per season, or about 45% of a max deal, Green is not overpaid. At least not badly. He's only 27 years old and is signed through his age 29 season. He should not decline during this contract, and in a league where many bad players (hello Andrea Bargnani) are making $10-15 million, he's not even in the top 25 worst contracts in basketball.

- He's also not an elite player, and will never be one. He doesn't rebound, can't create shots for others and will likely peak at average to slightly-above-average defensively (where he is now). He can however, score. Not many players in basketball have the inside-out offensive abilities that Green possesses, and with a full season of getting "star" touches - Green should be able to average 18+ points-per-game rather easily.

The bottom line on Green: He's in the middle of his prime, is affordable (not a great contract, but again, not bad either), and is far better suited to be a 3rd/4th banana on a very good team. He also has an opt-out in 2015, and may very well use it. He'll only have 1 year, $9 million remaining on his deal at that point, and at the age of 28 may believe he can secure another four or five year contract. That's why I strongly believe that he could be a trade chip next summer. Teams are always looking for guys who can score, and after a full season of stat padding, Green could be very attractive to a contender next year.

What does all of this have to do with Hayward? Well, both Green and Hayward are natural small forwards (as is Wallace), and as long as Green is in Boston - Hayward is unlikely to be. But if Boston moves Uncle Jeff, the door opens to make a move on the former Butler Bulldog.

Of course that brings up another important point - is Hayward worth dumping Green for?

Is Hayward worth the trouble? - And here is the most important point of all. Just how good is Hayward? And is he worth $12+ million per season. As of now, the numbers say, "not really". He's an efficient scorer — career 45% from the field, 40% from three, 81% from the line, 0.97 points scored per play (NBA average = 0.945), and a good passer for a small forward, averaging 3.4 assists per 36 minutes for his career. However he's an even worse rebounder than Green, grabbing an embarrassingly low 6.5% of all available rebounds when he is on the floor. And defensively, the jury is still out. He's athletic, but not nearly the athlete Green is, and the defensive metrics are improving, but still point to him being a bit below average (he gave up 0.87 ppp last season while NBA average is 0.855).

But two points he has in his favor are his age (23) and the fact that so far he has shown improvement in all three NBA seasons. Last year he averaged 14/3/3 in just 29 minutes per game, and should see 35 minutes per game this year on a bad Utah team, thus fully showcasing his skills (fairly similar to the situation Green is in).

Considering the path Boston is on, bringing in an improving 24-year-old (Hayward's age next summer) makes more sense than keeping a 28-year-old (Green's age next summer) already in his prime. So yes, Hayward fits the team better long term than Green. Although the two are pretty close as players right now.

Bottom line:

This is unlikely in the sense that acquiring any restricted free agent is unlikely, but Hayward is about the best shot the Celts have to acquire a good free agent as there is. He fits the team's current situation (young, just about to enter his prime), is semi-affordable, and is very comfortable with Stevens. So when he hits RFA this summer, I am certain the Celtics will be involved. Of course, Utah may just wait until Boston (or another team) offers 4/48 and match it, or they may offer 5/60 (ala the Wolves with RFA Nikola Pekovic this past summer) and remove all doubt from the equation. Or -- they may decide to build around Derrick Favors and Andrew Wiggins (or Jabari Parker) should the lottery gods smile upon the mormons. That's what's fun about the Summer of 2014 -- we have no damn clue what it entails. So yea, Hayward is a possibility for Boston next summer. Just don't bet on it.

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