Gordon Hayward announced Tuesday that he would sign a four-year, $128 million deal with the Celtics, choosing them over the Utah Jazz, his team since 2010, and the Miami Heat. In Hayward’s Player’s Tribune article titled “Thank You, Utah,” Hayward stressed that Boston’s coach Brad Stevens was the main factor in deciding to join the Celtics. Hayward is very comfortable with Stevens, his former college coach, as the two worked together at Butler University for two seasons.
In his second and final season at Butler University, the Bulldogs, led by Hayward, advanced to the 2010 National Championship game against Duke University where his last second attempt to win the game missed by a couple inches. "And that unfinished business [Stevens and Hayward] had together, back in 2010, when I left Butler for the NBA," Hayward wrote, "... as far as I'm concerned, all of these years later, we still have it. And that's to win a championship."
Stevens left Butler to coach the Celtics in the 2013-14 season and led Boston to 53 wins last season, including the top seed in the Eastern Conference and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. This is the move that the Celtics needed to make to stay competitive with the Cavaliers, maybe even get past them. Next season will be LeBron James’ 15th season and will be 33 years old. As great a player he is, Father Time is undefeated. We didn’t see any evidence of LeBron slowing down last season, where he averaged over 30 points per game in the playoffs and a triple double in the NBA Finals, but the mileage that he has put on in his career will be taking a toll very soon.
The Cavs haven’t added any major playmakers as LeBron wished, and the Celtics monumentally improved by signing Hayward, even though it meant that the team had to trade starting shooting guard Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons to free cap space. Both Jae Crowder and Hayward can defend James, Hayward is a great ball-handler that can create offense, and Stevens knows exactly how to play Hayward.
The Celtics still need more to beat Cleveland, though. Missing out on Paul George and Jimmy Butler this season could hurt the Celtics this season, but the Celtics have stockpiled enough assets in draft picks and solid role players that could be used as trade bait for another star. As of today, both the Celtics and the Cavaliers have a big three, and the Cavaliers have the advantage in all three players. The addition of Hayward doesn’t push the Celtics past the team with the best player in the world, but it does push the Celtics closer to the NBA Finals.
As rumors of LeBron moving out west to the Los Angeles Lakers after next season continue to swirl, a move like this would almost indefinitely move the Celtics into the NBA Finals, as a team led by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love is really good, but wouldn’t be able to compete with the Celtics, the opposite of this year’s competition. It may not be this year, but the Celtics could be competing for a championship with Hayward and Isaiah Thomas leading the way very soon. The Celtics don’t need much more help.
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