We’ve now heard Danny Ainge’s side.
It was a predictably chaotic couple of weeks for the Boston Celtics, who lost Gordon Hayward in free agency. Of course, reports of sign-and-trade talks with Hayward, the Celtics and Indiana Pacers were common, but ultimately it was the Charlotte Hornets who won the Hayward sweepstakes — though that ultimately required a sign-and-trade with Boston that gives the Celtics a massive trade exception.
On Day 1 of training camp Tuesday, the Celtics president of basketball operations addressed the media for the first time since Hayward left, and he unsurprisingly was peppered with questions about what went down.
His first exchange was a quick one.
Question: “When did you first become aware of Gordon Hayward’s openness to leaving as a free agent?“
Answer: “I think that I was anticipating the possibility for the last few months”
Off we go.
Hayward’s run with Boston was a bumpy one. He suffered that gruesome lower leg injury minutes into his Celtics debut and missed the rest of the 2017-18 campaign. He never was quite right the following season, but hit a stride last campaign, only to never reach his All-Star form due to tough luck injuries interrupting his rhythm.
Over Hayward’s run with Boston though, things changed not just with him. He was brought in to be the guy. Then weeks later Ainge traded for Kyrie Irving, and Hayward got hurt. By the time he got back, he wasn’t playing well while competing for touches with Irving, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Last season, it was Kemba Walker, Tatum and Brown.
So, he effectively had become the fourth guy and, reading between the lines, he wanted more.
“You know, Gordon is a very unselfish player,” Ainge said over Zoom when asked if he ever was approached by Hayward about a bigger role. “So when I refer to a more featured role I’m not saying he wants to score 25 points a game and take all the shots. I think he just wants to be involved in the offense more, having the ball in his hands, dribble and pass, participating in the offense a little bit more. Yeah, there was — listen, I’ve had a lot of players come through here, and I’m sympathetic. I played with three first-ballot Hall of Famers in the starting lineup and I wanted to have a more featured role too.
“I think that it’s very common, and I think that we have some good players, Kemba and Jayson and Jaylen and Marcus (Smart) and those guys demand the ball some and I think if you ask each one of them they’d probably like to have a bit more of a featured role. But that’s the nature of the business that we’re in, that’s not any ill will on him in any way, shape or form.”
Even with the role in mind, Hayward leaving the Celtics, a team that had shown him a good bit of loyalty and patience, was surprising — though less so when details of his Hornets contract came to light.
But Ainge isn’t harboring any ill-will, actually coming to the defense of Hayward.
“Let me just start off by saying I’m grateful Gordon chose Boston. And I wish him nothing but the best, he’s a good teammate, a good guy. He’s a terrific player and I’m grateful that Gordon missed the birth of his son and came to play and try to help us even though he was far less than 100 percent this year in the playoffs. He made sacrifices to try to help give us a better chance of winning. Didn’t work out for our team, but I’m grateful for that he gave that kind of effort and that his family gave that kind of a sacrifice and I wish Gordon nothing but the best and congratulate him on his deal in Charlotte.”
So, about those talks with the Pacers. The reported details varied over time, but some had the Celtics asking for Myles Turner, a first-round pick and a rotation player. Others had the Celtics requesting Turner and either Victor Oladipo or T.J. Warren. Meanwhile, the Pacers’ reported offer was Turner and Doug McDermott.
Whatever the offers were, they fell through, obviously. And though Pacers president Kevin Pritchard was a little more candid about what happened, Ainge did address the matter from the Celtics perspective.
“So, I’m not going to comment on any conversations that I have — I’ll let others comment if they want — but I’m not going to comment on conversations I have with teams involving players from other teams,” Ainge said. “I will just say that Indiana was one of a handful of teams, maybe three or four teams would probably be a more accurate description, that we talked about a potential sign-and-trade. And as you know in sign and trades, the player controls that because if we work out a deal with the other team and Gordon doesn’t want to go there, he doesn’t have to go there. It takes all three parties to be pleased with where they’re going and with the contract that’s being offered.
“But I will just say that we did have discussions with Indiana, not going to go into the details, and we knew what the risks were and we knew what all the options were. We could do sign-and-trades with Indiana, with a couple other teams and with Charlotte and there were cap possibilities, including Charlotte, teams out there that had cap space that were willing to offer Gordon some of their cap space money. And we thought that any one of those options were good, but our No. 1 option was getting Gordon to come back and so all the way to the end we thought we were. But we weren’t gambling with assets in our hands, we knew that all of those were very good options for many different reasons, but I can’t really can’t go into details of those conversations.”
Going forward though, we’ll probably hear a lot less about Hayward. It was a tumultuous process, but one that is through and appeared to work out for everyone involved.