It seems inevitable. Gordon Hayward is destined to be a Boston Celtic.
I say that just days before NBA free agency begins on Saturday, as all the experts continue to link the C's to Hayward once he officially opts out of his contract with the Utah Jazz, which he is expected to do.
Hayward, 27, played for Brad Stevens at Butler, and he's coming off the best offensive year of his career. Given the Celtics' need for another scorer, it would certainly seem like a good fit for both the player and the team.
But that would be my Plan B. Plan A should be Blake Griffin.
According to reports, Hayward is linked to a potential trade for Indiana's Paul George. It seems the Celtics are trying to do both. Signing the free agent first, then working out the trade -- and possible contract extension for George -- after, would make the most sense.
And let me make something clear. I wouldn't trade for George unless he signs an extension. That said, I understand why he'd be the second shoe to drop after a big-money free-agent signing. But why does that free-agent have to be Hayward? Why can't it be Griffin instead?
Hayward is a really good player. He made his first All-Star team last season and averaged a career-high 21.9 points per game. But is he at the level where George sees Hayward's presence in Boston as a deal breaker to signing an extension with the Celtics? I just don't see how that could be true.
Meanwhile, Griffin is 28, just one year older than Hayward. He's a five-time All-Star who's averaged at least 20 points per game in six of his seven NBA seasons. As a No. 1 overall pick in 2009, Griffin is a 6-foot-10 power forward who would immediately become the Celtics' best rebounder, averaging 9.4 rebounds per game in his career.
The knock on him lately has been his health. Griffin has missed serious time due to injury the last three seasons, so dishing out the big bucks to a player who can't stay healthy is certainly a risk.
But I'm not in the business of projecting future injuries. If I was, then I'd also be questioning a trade for George, who, not too long ago suffered one of the nastiest leg injuries I've ever seen. But that doesn't scare me away. And neither does Griffin's injury history.
I do, however, fear that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is getting caught up in emotions. He's a big fan of Hayward. Or, at least, he's a big fan of Stevens, who is obviously a big Hayward guy himself. I'm sure Stevens would love to coach him again. And you have to think he's expressed that to Ainge quite a bit over the years.
Would Hayward help the Celtics? Of course he would. But is he the best free agent who'll be testing the market? No, Griffin is.
So the Celtics should sign him. Not only because he's the best available free agent, but it also makes more sense for their starting lineup if a trade for George is looming. And if the Celtics are going to make all these top-three draft picks, then Griffin's presence won't get in the way of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum's minutes.
Even without a trade for George, Griffin would immediately make the Celtics a better team than they were last year. And if you ask me, the addition of both Griffin and George would make the Celtics a better team than if they added the combo of Hayward and George, both now and in the future.
The rumor mill suggests that Ainge feels differently. But if I were him, I'd be making Griffin my top priority on July 1.
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