For better or worse, the Boston Celtics season looks like it will continue after the coronavirus shut down the NBA earlier this year. If there’s one player whom the revived season will benefit, it might just be Gordon Hayward. Facing a career crossroads whenever his offseason ends up beginning, the additional games and extended timeframe will help him determine if his future lies with the Celtics.
As it stands now, the Celtics will travel to Walt Disney World in order to play eight more games, which are currently labeled “regular season games” even though there will be nothing regular about them. After those, the team will then advance to the playoffs. Where they go from there will depend on how they fare against whoever their first-round opponent ends up being. This will give Hayward further time to see how he blends in with a (hopefully) fully-healthy Celtics squad before facing the decision of whether or not to opt-out of the final year of his contract.
Since signing with the Celtics in the summer of 2017, it’s never been quite clear where Hayward fits in with the Celtics. In his very first game with Boston, an actual regular season game, Hayward suffered a fractured tibia and dislocated ankle that promptly ended his debut year. Hayward returned in his second year, but he never looked fully physically or mentally recovered from the potentially career-altering injury, something which ended up being a contributing factor in the Celtics’ disappointing 2018-19 season.
Before the hiatus in the 2019-20 season, Hayward showed signs that he was the All-Star caliber player he was with the Utah Jazz, but he once again missed stretches of time due to health concerns. Most seriously, he fractured his left hand right when he looked to be getting back to the swing of things. Should the Celtics season have come to an end, he would right now be forced to decide whether to pick up his $34.2 million option for next season or opt-out and seek a fresh long-term contract, either with the Celtics or with a new team.
With the rebooted NBA schedule, Hayward will now have until October 17 to make his decision. In addition to the added time, he will have an additional stretch of games to play with the core Celtics lineup (Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart) which is likely to return next season. It wouldn’t hurt for him to get some additional information about how exactly he would fit in with his once-and-possible-future teammates before making a final decision.
The best case scenario for the Celtics would probably entail Hayward opting out of his current deal and agreeing to a long-term contract with Boston for less-money. This also feels like a highly unlikely scenario, just considering where he is in his career and the future financial insecurity around the league. The NBA salary cap is due to take a huge hit thanks to the revenue the league continues to lose during this extended hiatus. Meanwhile, Hayward (through no fault of his own) hasn’t really looked like a star player since signing his big contract with Boston. It will probably make the most sense for him to pick up his huge extension, finish up his deal with the Celtics and see what his market will be a year from now.
However, all this could change if Hayward finishes up this season with a bang. An impressive showing in the playoffs could inspire another team to hand out a huge deal. It’s also not impossible that the Celtics could go far enough in the postseason that Hayward decides it would be worth a gamble to sign a long-term deal with them even if it means a slightly smaller paycheck. While neither of these scenarios is the most likely, the continuation of the season at least keeps them as possibilities for the time being.