For Celtics fans, the 2017 off-season has been like a bad case of blue balls, filled with dreams of super teams and titles, all seemingly cock-blocked by GM Danny Ainge. Despite the fact that Ainge is the architect of one of the most impressive rebuilds across all major sports, journalists called for his job all off-season. But, after inexplicably striking out on Cousins, Fultz, Butler, George, and Griffin— The Celtics finally got their man. And Gordon Hayward is as talented, as he is well-groomed. While his hair will inevitably inspire thousands of drunk Massholes to ask their barber for “The Haywahd,” it’s his play on the court that’ll truly inspire fans.
But Hayward is more than just a nice haircut, he’s the ideal modern wing. In fact, Hayward has increased his scoring average every year he’s been in the NBA, up from the 5.4 points he averaged his rookie year, to the 21.9 that helped earn him his first Allstar appearance.
Hayward’s scoring ability will finally allow Brad Stevens to finally take some pressure off of his 5’9 superstar, Isaiah Thomas. Thomas was second in the NBA in fourth quarter scoring and fifth in usage rate and as a result, he broke down by the end of the year. Adding Hayward allows the Celtics to keep Thomas fresh throughout the year, while also making the offense more far more versatile. With the addition of Hayward, The Celtics can feature lineups with shooters at all five positions. Brad Stevens’ system is predicated on ball movement, though he’s never had the shooters to take it over the top until now. With Hayward, Thomas and Horford flinging the ball all over the court to capable shooters, Stevens finally has the personal to take his offense to the next level. With all of that being said, the addition of Hayward still isn’t enough to vault the Celtics over the Cavaliers, which leaves the team at a crossroads.
The Celtics strange mix of intriguing young players and established veterans is good enough to contend, but not good enough to topple the Warriors or Cavaliers. While fans clamor for Ainge to finally cash in on his litany of assets, Ainge seems content to sit back, acquire more young talent, and build for the future. And this is where the true brilliance of the Hayward signing lies. Signing Gordon Hayward placates fans, and tricks them into thinking the Celtics are legitimate contenders. In reality, acquiring Hayward allows The Celtics to masquerade as title contenders, while Ainge assembles a team built to contend in 2020. The Celtics are essentially running their own version of the Sixers vaunted “Process”— Ainge is just doing it as a perennial number one seed.
And at just 27 years old Gordon Hayward provides the perfect bridge to transition to the next phase of the franchise. Hayward will spend his first few seasons on the Celtics losing in the Eastern Conference Finals, as the team’s young talent continues to develop. And if 7/11, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, reach their ceilings the team could become something truly dangerous. And that’s to say nothing of the top heavy, but loaded, 2018 draft class where the Celtics have a legitimate shot at two top 5 picks.
If the luck of the Irish works out next off-season, the Celtics will have a team built around Thomas, Hayward, Horford, Smart and four top five draft picks. That’s a lot of ifs and Ainge still has some heavy lifting to do, but signing Hayward buys Ainge some time. While Ainge’s patience irks fans, he may just be quietly assembling a dynasty built to dominate the next decade of NBA basketball.