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Gordon Hayward, Celtics

5 best destinations for Gordon Hayward in free agency

Gordon Hayward did the unthinkable on Thursday, opting out of his contract with the Boston Celtics to test the open free agency market this offseason.

Hayward, who signed a four-year, $127.8 million contract with the Celtics in 2017, was set to make $34,187,085 in 2020-21 if he picked up his player option. The former Utah Jazz All-Star has been prone to injuries since signing with the Celtics, which has caused his play on the court to take a deep dive.

In this uncertain economy due to COVID-19, it didn’t seem likely that Hayward would actually decline his player option since he probably won’t get lucrative money on the open market. However, he’s decided to do exactly that.

Assuming Hayward doesn’t want to re-sign with the Celtics, here are five teams Gordon Hayward should look to sign with in free agency.

1. Indiana Pacers

Since he was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Gordon Hayward is always going to be linked to the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers have a new head coach in Nate Bjorkgren after firing Nate McMillan. The club needs to surround Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis with more talent, especially since the former becomes a free agent in 2021 and there have been whispers that Oladipo is upset in Indiana.

If the Pacers signed Hayward, they could throw out a starting lineup of Malcolm Brogdon, Oladipo, T.J. Warren, Sabonis and Myles Turner, with Hayward coming off the bench as the team’s sixth man.

Now granted, one of the reasons Hayward may be looking to leave the Celtics is because he’s not happy coming off the bench, so that is something to keep in mind when discussing Hayward’s fit with the Pacers.

Indiana can’t bench Warren after his stellar play at the Walt Disney World bubble, so Hayward may have no choice but to accept a bench role should he want to play at home.

2. Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks have a good amount of cap space this offseason. The team desperately needs a scoring wing alongside Trae Young and John Collins and Hayward fits that bill despite no longer being an All-Star in the NBA.

In 2019-20, Hayward averaged 17.5 points per game for the Celtics while shooting 50.0 percent from the field, 38.3 percent from beyond the arc and 85.5 percent from the free-throw line. That’s the type of production the Hawks would love to get from their third scoring option behind Young and Collins.

Atlanta could have a starting five of Young, Kevin Huerter, Hayward, Collins and Clint Capela. Hayward is a solid 3-point shooter who would space the floor well for the Hawks, especially when Young is driving to the basket and drawing multiple defenders.

3. Portland Trail Blazers

If the Portland Trail Blazers lose Carmelo Anthony in free agency, Hayward would be a great addition to the squad.

However, just like with the Pacers, Hayward may have to come off the bench in Portland since the Blazers now have Robert Covington, who is a way better defender than the former Butler star and defense is an area the team struggles with.

Hayward has already shown that he’s capable of swallowing his ego and coming off the bench. Since the Blazers have two high-volume shooters and scorers in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Hayward probably wouldn’t even be a good fit in the Blazers’ starting lineup.

Should the forward sign with Portland, Hayward could run with the second unit and be the primary scorer and facilitator.

4. Phoenix Suns

The Suns need more scoring in the starting lineup next to Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Hayward, who usually spends his offseasons in San Diego, California, would certainly enjoy living in sunny Phoenix, Arizona.

The Suns could have a starting five of Chris Paul, Booker, Hayward, Ayton, and either Cam Johnson or Mikal Bridges. In today’s NBA, the small-ball era has taken over, so a frontcourt of Hayward, Ayton and one of the latter two wouldn’t have trouble scoring and running up and down the floor for easy baskets in transition off makes or misses.

Booker led the Suns to an impressive 8-0 record during the seeding games at Walt Disney World. However, Phoenix still missed the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference standings.

If Hayward is looking to start again—and he probably is—the Suns are a good landing spot for the veteran. He’d most likely be the fourth option on offense behind Booker, Paul, and Ayton and free to play his game in a full capacity under head coach Monty Williams.

5. Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets could lose Jerami Grant in free agency, so Hayward could slide into Denver’s small forward spot should that happen.

Against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets lacked a third half-court scorer behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. Hayward is a guy who can create his own shot off the dribble and score from all three areas of the court.

With the Jazz and Celtics, Gordon Hayward has compiled averages of 15.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the regular season. If he’s really looking to leave Brad Stevens and the Celtics, it’s going to be fascinating to see where he winds up.