The HAYmaker: How Gordon Hayward can lift Boston over Cleveland

Things haven’t exactly gone as planned for Boston the past few weeks. The Celtics, ripe with assets, seemed like a lock to land a star this offseason.

Their first opportunity came during the draft when long-time trade target Jimmy Butler already had one foot out the door in Chicago.

But Minnesota beat the Celtics to the punch, trading away Dunk King Zach LaVine, rookie Kris Dunn and the 7th overall pick for Butler and the 16th overall pick.

It’s a deal that Boston certainly could’ve beaten, but Celtics GM Danny Ainge didn’t even reach out to the Bulls in the days leading up to the trade.

Strike one.

But hey, there’s still Paul George, right? Wrong. Oklahoma City shocked the league, pulling the trigger on a trade for George when no other team had the guts to take the gamble, including Boston.

The Thunder shipped off Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for a top-15 player in the league, and tensions began to grow in Bean Town.

Strike two.

And then there was Hayward. Fans and league sources alike all seemed to believe the 27-year old was destined to play in green and gold. And can you blame them? All the signs pointed to Boston.

The Celtics needed another star to play alongside Isaiah Thomas – one that could tip the Eastern Conference’s scales in Boston’s favor. And a reunion between Hayward and his college head coach, Brad Stevens, only sweetened the deal.

But now even Boston’s seemingly-surefire acquisition wasn’t looking like a lock.
The Jazz were doing everything in their power to convince their all-star to re-sign, trading for floor general Ricky Rubio earlier in the week and bringing back Joe Ingles as well.

Even Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert got in on the recruiting process, sending out a series of clever emoji tweets directed at his star teammate.

Then Miami threw its hat into the ring. And what Pat Riley wants, Pat Riley gets. Hayward met with the Heat on Saturday, and sources claimed the pitch went well.

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor even went so far as to declare Miami the favorites in the Gordon Hayward sweepstakes, citing a “better lifestyle” and a “feature scoring role” as the key factors.

A sense of urgency suddenly overcame Boston. A third strike in free agency wasn’t an option, and the team’s pitch to Hayward on Sunday had to be great.

All reports claimed that it was a success. The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn stated that Hayward left the meeting with “positive sentiment,” but no deal.

Utah still had one final chance to sway Hayward on Monday. The two parties met in his San Diego summer home for nearly four hours, but the Jazz weren’t able to secure a deal either.

Hayward announced that he’d sleep on it and reveal his decision on Tuesday. Miami, Boston and Utah did everything they could, but all the three suitors could do now was wait.

ESPN’s Chris Haynes dropped the bombshell on Tuesday at 12:17 p.m., reporting that Hayward planned to sign with Boston.

The league was thrust into a frenzy, analyzing the fit and its impact on the NBA hierarchy. But here’s where things got tricky. Fellow ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski pumped the breaks, stating that Hayward had not yet made a decision.

We were all left to speculate for the next few hours until Hayward broke the news himself on ThePlayersTribune.com. He signed a four-year, $128M deal with Boston.

At long last, the Celtics hit a home run this offseason.

The deal shifts the tone in the Eastern Conference. With Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap all heading West, Hayward’s move to Boston is now Cleveland’s only real cause for concern in the East.

Hayward is set to play alongside Thomas, an explosive guard who averaged 28.9 points and veteran big man Al Horford, a four-time all-star.

They’re also equipped with a cluster of young talent. Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum all have the potential to flourish in the league, and Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder and provide depth to the roster.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect. The Cavaliers are facing an identity crisis after getting blown away by the Warriors in the NBA Finals. With key contributors like Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert rumored to be on the move, Boston looks poised to challenge King James and snatch the throne from underneath him.

In a conference where LeBron James has reached the finals for the past seven years, Hayward and the Celtics are a breath of fresh air. With the star-power to win now and the collection of draft picks to win for years to come, we may all be witnessing the beginning of something special.

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