With speculation rampant as to how Travis Schlenk and the Atlanta Hawks will use their NBA-leading salary cap space, a report from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports now ties the Hawks to the potential pursuit of an intriguing veteran player. Haynes notes that the Hawks “are in play in an attempt to acquire” Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward in the coming days.
Hayward’s situation is an interesting one, as the 30-year-old is currently weighing a decision on a $34.2 million player option for the 2020-21 season. The deadline for Hayward to exercise his option was actually set for Tuesday, but the former Utah Jazz forward and the franchise mutually agreed to delay that decision until Thursday.
As such, there is a chance that Hayward will be an unrestricted free agent in the coming days and, from Atlanta’s perspective, that would be a much easier path to secure his services. If Hayward were to opt in, however, the Hawks could reportedly trade for Hayward, even with only one year remaining at a lofty price.
UPDATE: Late on Tuesday evening, Jared Weiss of The Athletic poured a bit of cold water on the notion of Hayward to the Hawks. He reports Hayward “wants to continue to be a core part of a winning team and would not want to go to Atlanta.” From there, Weiss notes that the Hawks rumor, at least in his understanding, “seems like posturing to create a perception of leverage.” As with anything this time of year, it isn’t a surprise to come across contradictory reporting, but all of the information is noteworthy, and Weiss’s reporting does play into the notion that Atlanta is a perfect leverage team for any player and/or agent at the moment.
On the court, Hayward would bring a secondary ball-handler with the ability to score and create for others. He averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists during the 2019-20 season in Boston, with Hayward also converting 38.3 percent of his three-point attempts and 50 percent of his shots from the field. Though he missed virtually the entire 2017-18 season after a freak injury in the season opener, Hayward has been reasonably durable during a ten-year NBA career, and he would be the best wing option on the unrestricted free agent market.
It is worth noting that the Hawks can take Hayward directly into their cap space, even if he chooses to exercise his player option. Because that is a possibility that other teams can’t match, Atlanta could have the advantage, but the next steps will be interesting. In theory, the Hawks could make their intentions known to Hayward and his representation, potentially facilitating an opt-out and keeping Atlanta from sending assets to Boston in a trade. On the flip side, that asking price could be lofty, and this is a nuanced, layered situation for all parties involved.
If nothing else, the Hawks are now formally linked to one of the better players available on the market, and the appeal of Hayward alongside Atlanta’s young core is undeniably intriguing.