Hayward is now a 23-year-old rising star who’s headed toward restricted free agency this summer. Stevens is a 37-year-old rising star in his own right, having just signed a six-year mega contract to coach Boston into a new era.
Right now the Celtics are a team in search of young talent with All-Star potential. Hayward is a young player with All-Star potential. The possibility that these two can be reunited deserves further exploration.
After spending his first three years benefiting off Al Jefferson’s low-post wizardry and the can-opener effectiveness of Paul Millsap, Hayward is now the best all-around player on the league’s worst team.
Despite a brand new laundry list of responsibilities (mostly creating for others instead of finishing after someone creates for him), Hayward has made a leap in nearly every major statistical category, posting career-best numbers in points, steals, rebounds and assists per 36 minutes.
He’s shooting 51 percent on two-pointers, and about one-fourth of every three-pointer he attempts is coming off the dribble, which partly explains why his percentage from deep is dangerously close to falling south of 30 percent.
No matter. His assist rate has skyrocketed to 25.8 percent, and his PER is at a career-best 19.3 (nearly doubled from his rookie season).
The bottom line here is: Hayward is clearly getting better while his team jogs in place.
The Celtics are a team bereft of expectations and the necessary skills that make them, which means nobody on their roster is untouchable in a trade (including a hurt Rajon Rondo).
Given Hayward’s age, high potential and familiarity with Stevens, it'd be unwise for Celtics general manager Danny Ainge not to have at least a speck of interest in acquiring him.
So what’s the next step here? If Boston were intent on having Hayward, which they should be, how could they make it happen?
Hayward is in the exact same situation as Greg Monroe, Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley and all but six players drafted in 2010 who were unable to agree with their current teams on a rookie scale extension contract.
This leaves the door open for a team with cap space to offer Hayward roughly $58.5 million over the next four years (at the most) then wait and see if Utah matches.
Contract figures in the $50 million range were proposed by Hayward's camp before the November 1st deadline, but according to Yahoo! NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, the Jazz wanted no part in going that high before seeing how much Hayward progressed this season.
In their current form, the Celtics don’t have nearly enough cap space to offer Hayward that max deal. They’d first need to rid themselves of Gerald Wallace, Rondo or Jeff Green.
Hopeless for Boston, right? Wrong. If the Celtics were dead set on acquiring Hayward, they could always try a sign-and-trade—which is exactly what the Sacramento Kings did with Tyreke Evans last summer.
By all accounts, Utah likes Hayward a lot. And they should. But what if Boston offered Jeff Green, Vitor Faverani and a top-five protected first round pick in 2015?
First, take a look at how Green and Hayward compare this season. The Celtics forward is four years older and has a $9.2 million player option in two years that can make him an unrestricted free agent. So why would the Jazz do this? They probably wouldn't...unless they land a top pick in the 2014 draft. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are both 6'8" swingmen, same as Hayward.
There's nothing wrong with depth, but if Hayward is on a four-year, $58.5 million deal, and the Jazz are also looking to keep Enes Kanter (worth a pretty penny) along with Trey Burke (yet to play an NBA minute), their cap sheet could get murky.
Utah also has to worry about paying whoever they select with Golden State's 2014 first rounder, and filling out the rest of their roster with enough talent to make having a costly core worthwhile.
The Celtics would be more than happy making Hayward their small forward of the future, teaming him up with a Rondo and Avery Bradley backcourt. It'd give Stevens a premier secondary ball-handler who's able to run pick-and-rolls and either finish by himself or create opportunities for others.
(Right now the Celtics barely have one such player who's healthy, and his name is Jordan Crawford. So that's not exactly a long-term solution.)
While Green is a fantastic scorer in transition, and an excellent spot-up shooter from the corner, running pick-and-rolls and dishing pocket passes to bigs on the move isn't something he's shown he can handle. Going forward the Celtics will need another ball-handler who can make defenses work, allowing Rondo to operate off the ball (something he's quite good at in a limited sample), which is why Hayward is the better fit.
He's intelligent, reads defenses without the ball and can shoot. He's only getting better, and has the makings of a long-term All-Star. Trading for him would accelerate Boston's renovation. They already have half a dozen first-round draft picks, but what they need are proven commodities able to smoothly fit in just about any offensive and defensive scheme Stevens has concocted.
Gordon Hayward is the perfect answer.