NBA Free Agency: Winners and losers from Gordon Hayward's move to the Celtics
Jazz are facing trouble, the Raptors' path is harder, Ainge is vindicated and Jae Crowder is left out
Another Fourth of July, another major free-agency decision that helps a contender and sucker punches the team that drafted the star. Gordon Hayward is headed to Boston after announcing his decision Tuesday night.
Here's a look at the winners and losers from Hayward's big move:
WINNERS: BOSTON CELTICS
They had to get Hayward, especially after trading the No. 1 overall draft pick -- when that player (Markelle Fultz) was the consensus top selection. They whiffed on trading for Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Had they missed on Hayward, their target for months, it wouldn't have been a disaster. The Celtics would still be a 50-win team that made the conference finals with a treasure chest of young talent. But after so many chances at a big upgrade, to have netted only Jayson Tatum and the promise of maybe more future moves would have been disappointing.
More than avoiding a loss, it's a huge win. Hayward is a top-flight defender who can create in the pick and roll and spot up from the outside. He was 87th percentile via Synergy Sports as a pick-and-roll scorer, and 71st in spot-up catch-and-shoot situations, knocking down 40 percent of his shots, mostly from deep. His size and mobility as a perimeter defender are especially valuable, considering Celtics' small back court (5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas and 6-2 Avery Bradley). Hayward also makes the Celtics' offense -- already among the league's top five -- even harder to defend.
The Celtics probably are not better than the Cavaliers and it's very unlikely they are ready to challenge the Warriors. But they are gaining ground with plenty of options for the future.
LOSERS: UTAH JAZZ
They lost their best player and their third-best player (George Hill) on the same day. That's after they traded for Ricky Rubio, who reportedly was part of their pitch to keep Hayward. They get worse on defense, worse on offense and lose a clutch shot-maker who is a locker-room leader and an All-Star.
It's also not just about Hayward. The Jazz did everything right. They rebuilt through the draft, added key pieces and brought in a good coach. Some will point to how they didn't offer Hayward the max in 2014 as a restricted free agent. Forget that. There were questions about how good Hayward was then, and the Jazz took advantage of his RFA rights like many teams do. Few projected Hayward would reach this level.
They surrounded Hayward with talent, drafted well, added veterans and managed the cap. They showed him love, and now he's gone. It speaks to free agency and how fleeting success can be. Utah carefully built a playoff team, finally got healthy and reached the second round last season. And just like that, the Jazz might not be back to square one, but they're at square two.
Utah still has Rubio, Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood. But their chances of making a real run or being relevant in the West are gone. And they'll have to do this all over again in a few years with Gobert.
LOSERS: MIAMI HEAT
Miami was always a long shot. Its roster simply is not good enough. Free agents are not excited about Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside as franchise cornerstones. Living in Miami is a pull, Pat Riley is a legend and Erik Spoelstra is a terrific coach. But missing on Hayward shows the Heat are not a seriously relevant team. They tried to get LaMarcus Aldridge with no luck. They have tried for every major free agent since LeBron James left. No luck.
Miami didn't have as much on the line as Hayward's other suitors, but this is still a bummer. The Heat made a lot of noise with a two-month winning stretch that netted a bad draft pick. After this important offseason stretch, they are no closer to contention or even reaching the playoffs.
LOSER: JAE CROWDER
Poor guy saw this coming. He was mad last season. Crowder plays on a discount contract and often draws the toughest defensive assignments. And the Celtics just brought in an upgrade. So one of three things happens to him now:
- He comes off the bench
- He switches to power forward, causing wear on his body and increasing his injury rate while lowering his production
- He gets traded
There are no good options. He could lose standing, opportunity or even earning potential. He's loved in Boston, helped the Celtics into the Eastern Conference finals and is now an afterthought.
WINNER: ISAIAH THOMAS
A lot has gone his way in the past three weeks. The Celtics traded the No. 1 pick, and most likely the barrier between Thomas and a max extension with Boston. They added Hayward, who covers for Thomas' defensive weaknesses and gives IT4 another weapon who can share play-making and scoring duties. Hayward and Thomas in pick-and-pop situations will be dynamic and difficult to stop. Hayward as a spot-up shooter will give Thomas more assists.
The Hayward move also forces management to pursue this core's potential, rather than tooling for a rebuild, and that increases Thomas' odds of staying with Boston and getting his payday. It was a big day for the little guy.
WINNER: DANNY AINGE
You don't have to agree with the decisions, but it's hard to argue the results. He has picks upon picks and a loaded roster with veteran stars and young talent. Ainge has more moves at his disposal and just landed the best available free agent -- a player he had sought for a year.
Ainge has taken a lot of grief for missing on moves or being too cute with trade offers. But it turns out the only asset he might have needed was Brad Stevens, who brought in Hayward. Despite his misses, Ainge finishes this offseason looking like a genius for making 50-plus-win team better.
WINNER: GORDON HAYWARD
Hayward's options were all good. But Al Horford will make a great front-court partner to dish to and take dribble hand-offs from. Thomas is the best point guard partner he has had. He's a real star in a big market now and gets the benefits that come with that, including more than $100 million.
It's a good fit, the one he wanted. He had a rough day dealing with the back and forth about his decision, but he still comes out on top.
WINNER: NORTHWEST DIVISION OUTSIDE OF UTAH
That division has gained George and Butler in the past month. It features two likely playoff teams and three borderline playoff clubs. It's conceivable all five make it next season.
Hayward's departure from Utah likely makes it a little easier on teams like Portland and Denver, which saw OKC and Minnesota acquire those big stars. The Blazers' and Nuggets' competition got a little bit weaker, even if the rest of the division remains a nightmare -- and Utah still will be tough.
LOSER: TORONTO RAPTORS
They paid through the nose to keep their core and failed to upgrade. They lost, and the Celtics -- who just barely finished ahead of Toronto last season -- just added an All-Star. Injuries were a major factor why the Raptors didn't win the division last season and they arguably were as good as the Celtics. Hayward puts Boston firmly ahead.
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