The Post About Maybe Trading Gordon Hayward
A few days ago I tweeted some things that made a handful of people angry and if there's anything the Internet is good for, it's dragging out a meaningless argument between people who don't know each other and have no power to test their hypotheses or implement their ideas. With that in mind, here's a post about this tweet, and the handful of others that followed it on the same topic:
THE SECTION WHERE I TALK ABOUT NUANCE
It's important to point out that I did not say that they have to trade Gordon Hayward. I said that they have a month to decide if they can trade him, because the trade deadline is approaching and what we've seen over a small sample of less than half a season has shifted Hayward from untradeable, because his contract was too negative of an asset to be worth moving, to one that could potentially be moved.
It's also worth pointing out that I did not say that they need to trade him for Andre Drummond. As a lapsed UConn fan I know that Drummond is (nuanced) poop.
Finally, I did not say that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can't play with Hayward, only that their development is critical to the franchise and that a major way to facilitate their development is to put the ball in their hands as much as possible. Basically, there's only one ball and opening up more time for it to be in the hands of the Jays is a worthy goal.
Kemba Walker is not going to be traded during this season. If the T-Wolves are collectively infected with a mind-warping parasite and decide to trade Karl Towns then we can discuss Jayson Tatum but, barring that, it's not worth spending much energy on figuring out what it would take to move him. Jaylen Brown's extension makes him functionally immovable because of the Poison Pill provision in the CBA.
Hayward, on the other hand, is a large contract without many years left on it and he's played well enough this year for some teams to want him. However, he's also not a foundational piece of the franchise and the team has gone 12-4 in the games he missed, three of which he attributed to chronic nerve pain in his foot.
In short, he's played himself into the sweet spot where a player can most easily be traded. The Celtics don't have long-term control of his contract, he's in the band between "mild negative" and "slight positive" contract value, and the team has cover at his position in the form of two young borderline All Stars and a rookie lottery pick.
If he opts out of his contract this summer then obviously the C's could not trade him and might lose him for nothing. If the Celtics should even want him to opt in is a question that should be asked.
THE SECTION WHERE I ASK QUESTIONS
Do you think the Celtics are title contenders?
If you do, then you will never be swayed that the front office should seriously investigate trading Hayward. You should just stop reading now; I don't agree with your assessment but understand why you disagree with the premise of this whole thing.
On this point, I would argue that 40 years of history show that to win the title you need to either have an MVP-caliber player or be the Detroit Pistons. One of the ways for the Celtics to become a team with an MVP-caliber player is to have Jayson Tatum take a major leap forward, and giving him as much slack as you can for him to succeed or (likely) fail in achieving that is smart.
Do you think it would be good for the Celtics if Hayward opts in to his final year?
Removing the possibility that he opts in because of a further injury, which would obviously be a negative, how open the team should be to shifting Hayward should depend somewhat on if you think it would be a positive for him to opt in.
If he does stay on for the fourth season of his deal at over $34M, the Celtics will be capped out for the foreseeable future, assuming Jayson Tatum is still a Celtic in 2021-22.
If he opts out, he could either be re-signed at what would have to be a significant amount for it to be worth opting out, or he could leave via free agency.
Were he to leave, Boston would either be operating as a team over the cap but with the full Mid-level Exception at their disposal, or under the cap by up to maybe $15M if Enes Kanter opted out, Daniel Theis, Semi Ojeleye, and Javonte Green were waived, and one of either the Celtics or Bucks picks were traded or stashed overseas.
If he opted out and re-signed a new contract starting in the low $20 millions and all of the things listed above for cap clearing happened they would probably still have the full MLE, but more likely they would push up near the luxury tax and have only the Taxpayer MLE available.
In either situation, roster spots become an issue. The only definite free agent the Celtics have is Brad Wanamaker and with likely three first round picks at their disposal the starting point would be an overstocked roster where some players would have to be cut or traded.
If Hayward opted out, could they afford to re-sign him long-term?
This question is always difficult to answer without knowing the team's budget but I generally set it around $10M over the luxury tax to be reasonable and consistent.
The time period we're concerned with here begins in 2021-22. Tatum will still be on rookie scale next season so they can afford to have Hawyard on the roster no matter how it happens.
In 2021-22 you get to the point that causes issues. Teams can generally afford to have 3-4 large contracts. If a few of those are the 35% top max for a 10+ year vet or designated 8-9 year player, it's hard to have more than three without paying a massive tax bill.
The Celtics have Walker at 30% of the cap and Brown around 21%. Tatum will be getting 25% with an outside chance at that climbing towards 30% if he makes All NBA in 2020-21. If we set Tatum at 25% then those three make up roughly $90M of an estimated $161M maximum budget.
Hayward would be eligible for 35% of the cap in that season but adding him at $40+M would be a non-starter. There wouldn't be enough left in the budget to fill out a top quality roster around those four, even with Smart on a below-market deal. Dropping that to the 30% max still seems like it would be too much, even if you think he'll recover to near his pre-injury effectiveness.
If he drops down a contract around what Jaylen signed for then yes, you could fit him with Walker, Tatum, Brown, and a strong roster around them.
An advantage of not trading him would obviously be getting to see more games this season to determine what you think he's "worth" in a vacuum, though perversely if he played his way into $35M/year offers from other teams it might make him impossible to keep.
In the abstract, how much should a team spend at center if they don't have a star there?
This season, Boston has skated by with inexpensive options at center. They're spending less than 14% of the salary cap in total on the center position. It's fair to believe that this is a fatal flaw of the team. It's also fair to believe that center is the most fungible position in the league and that spending as little as possible on it (assuming you don't have a truly elite player at the position center) is smart management.
If you believe that, in the long-term, the way Boston is treating the center position is intelligent and viable for a franchise with title aspirations, trading Hayward would be less of a priority. The challenge of finding a way to acquire a more proven and expensive option for the position would go away and the concerns around not having the future cap flexibility to sign one or the large, expendable contracts needed to trade for one, if Hayward were to opt out, is lessened.
If you believe that the Celtics need to be spending more on the position, you should also be asking how they'll be able to do that within the cap rules, if Hayward were to leave via free agency. For example, if Hayward were to opt out but Enes Kanter in, the Celtics would only have around the full MLE to sign an upgrade on their current options, or would need to trade from Kemba, Brown, or Smart in order to take a large salary in via that mechanism.
Is Robert Williams the Celtics' center of the future?
The "out card" in the deck for the center problem would be Williams. If you believe that he is good enough, and will start staying healthy enough, to be the team's starting center then the pressure to move Hayward is much less.
The team will have his Bird Rights at the end of his rookie deal so they would not have to worry about carving out cap space or cobbling together major salaries in a trade to pay him like a starting center when he's ready to become that.
THE SECTION WHERE I WONDER ABOUT MAXIMIZING THE JAYS
For all the questions about how to build and maintain a cap sheet, ultimately the question here is "how do you want to build a team around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown?"
Personally I think the idea of getting as many shot creating wings as possible is an interesting idea. It's the most scarce and valuable positional archetype and so it seems natural to want lots of them. However, there are a limited number of shots, and even dribbles, in a game and at some point you get diminishing returns. Do you reach that having your five highest paid players be two guards and three wings?
The Tatum of the first half of 2018-19 and Brown maybe even now don't create enough offense off the dribble for it to be a major problem for there to be two other on-ball creators like Walker and the current incarnation of Hayward out there. However, we've seen Tatum flourish as "the man" with second units and that Brown is showing real improvement as a drive-and-kick threat. They're both in their early 20's and the brightest hope of the franchise is that they both continue to develop in a mid-20's prime.
There's no way to make these small-sample evaluations without a lot of "eye test" going into it, and I also worry that the more you take the ball away from Tatum the more he falls into bad habits with the remaining possessions he "takes." When he has the ball a lot he tends to capably run the offense but there's some magical threshold that, when he falls below it, he starts to operate like he has "my turn" possessions where he's a major ball-stopper working into low efficiency isolation jumpers. The 2018-19 season was the ultimate example of this for basically the entire team, but it still happens in games this season.
Assuming that Walker is going to be a part of the set-up for the rest of his contract, is it worth dedicating so much of your remaining resources to a player like what Hayward is right now if the Jays are on their current development path? Gordon has been good on a per-minute basis this year, and his hand injury isn't the type of thing to worry about a recurrence of, but he's basically a big, finesse shooting guard. The pre-injury Hayward who drew fouls and guarded a lot of power forwards would bring things that the team otherwise doesn't have, but we don't know if that player is ever coming back. His pick-and-roll operating is making efficient offense but is the incremental value over running those possessions through Kemba or the Jays worth it?
This is where I believe it's possible that there could be trades out there where the answer is "no" and that the team would be better off re-balancing the roster with a few players who are better fits around the Jays right now in terms of their development while also adding a piece who fits into the longer-term vision of a cap sheet with maxed Walker and Tatum and Brown on his large extension.
THE SECTION WHERE I GIVE YOU FAKE TRADES TO MAKE YOU HAPPY AND ANGRY
A few notes before we do that part that everyone skipped ahead to and will then pick a single piece of to fixate on:
I haven't thought that hard about these
Not all of these are perfectly balanced but the C's have role players and draft picks to potentially balance things to out
I don't know that all of the teams on the other side would be interested in Hayward but the point is to investigate options, not definitely move him
The goal in these trades is roster balance and salary cap sustainability. In some cases the C's would functionally be buying the Bird Rights of a player but there would be no guarantee of keeping them, just like with Hayward.
Indiana Pacers for Myles Turner and Jeremy Lamb
I'm not a Turner fan but if I don't include this I'll have ten more people tweet it to me so I'm including it to pre-empt that. Turner's contract would be a nice fit with the rest of the cap sheet.
New Orleans Pelicans for Derrick Favors and J.J. Redick
Favors is somehow only 28 years old. He'll be a free agent this summer but if you could re-sign him with Bird Rights for something like 15% of the cap you would solve that position for a while at a reasonable price. Redick will always be able to run and shoot and create space for the Jays to operate with the ball.
Chicago Bulls for Otto Porter and Wendell Carter or Lauri Markkanen
Porter would be in Boston through the end of his big contract and then gone. If he could get over his troubling foot injury he might also be a decent fit as a lower usage 3-and-not-terrible-D piece. Really, we're just taking him to get a foot in the door, though.
The real move here is opening up the ability to take back the contract of one of the Bulls' young bigs. If they could get Carter it would be interesting. Markkanen has become much more an "eye of the beholder" player as he seems to have regressed in a bad situation.
Minnesota Timberwolves for Robert Covington and Gorgui Dieng
Covington has two more years beyond this one as a great contract. Any time he and Tatum shared the floor the defense would be elite. This is the ultimate "facilitating the Jays" move as Covington isn't going to eat up any possessions as a creator.
Dieng has been playing better lately but you're basically just eating a bad contract that expires when Tatum's extension will kick in. If you could take Teague instead then you would clear the second player off the books a season earlier.
Oklahoma City Thunder for Steven Adams and Dennis Schröder
I don't think OKC does this with their playoff positioning but they don't have any good wings and the C's could use both Adams's beef and Schroder's bench scoring. It adds a lot of salary for the C's but they'd have to send a center to the Thunder to make this all work.
You could do this with just Adams but then there's no long-term benefit and including Schroder defeats some of the purpose of getting the ball to the Jays more. It's another popular Twitter trade framework but I don't see it.
Phoenix Suns for Tyler Johnson and DeAndre Ayton
Sure, why not, you can always ask.