This preseason inspired a feeling Celtics fans have not had in a very long time, a belief better, happier days are here. There is no looming sense of dread if any obstacle happens to land in their road back to decency. This assembled cast of characters are even-keeled, cool, selfless personalities who mesh extremely well considering they don’t know one another all that well.
For all the bright spots, there is one murky figure that still resides. A reminder of what the franchise ultimately lost since his signing. The once rising star of Gordon Hayward undoubted cratered through no fault of his own (the fault lies with Kyrie Irving). Five-minutes into his Celtics tenure, his apprehended was supposed to usher in an era where Boston graduated a step above from scrappy contender status, to title favorites. Quite possibly, the 2017-18 Celtics are the greatest squad you’ll never have gotten to see full strength considering all they’ve accomplished losing Hayward – and later Irving to season ending injuries. I’ll go to my grave believing that was a championship team.
While the good vibes have seemed to also effect Hayward looking to recapture what made him an All-Star in Utah, his remaining in Boston reminds me of what should have been, but never will be. His contract is a hefty sum with two-years, a player-option for 2020-21. If he does return to his pre-injury form the Celtics likely will lose him to free agency this upcoming summer. Jaylen Brown‘s rookie contract will expire at the end of the season and Jayson Tatum is due for an extension at the same time. These pressing issues lingering on the horizon is why Ainge carefully constructed his title window for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Unforeseeable circumstances destroyed any chances of lasting success and Ainge is in a position many GMs are of running on the treadmill of not mediocrity, but constantly reshuffling the decks to sustain a good, but not great team. While the Toronto Raptors were in a similar position prior to trading for Kawhi Leonard, Masai Ujiri had to wait a long time for the superstar to become available on the market and had to endure multiple seasons of the Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan duo getting emasculated annually in the playoffs.
The Raptors have just extended Lowry for another season and are probably looking to maximize their chances in a wide open conference despite lacking the caliber of star Leonard was that put them over the top. If Hayward resembles his old self, it’s smart to consider a simple swap of Hayward for Marc Gasol. The Celtics cannot reasonably hope to contend for a title against the likes of Joel Embiid with Daniel Theis, Robert Williams and Enes Kanter. The Raptors are deathly shallow at the wing and Hayward can become rejuvenated in a new city clearly still high off the fumes of their title.
The loss of Al Horford could be blamed solely on Irving’s antics. His grandstanding, preaching empty sentiments of leadership and promises to flip the switch in the postseason drove the reliable Horford into the arms of dreaded rival Philadelphia. It is likely that if Horford learned not only Irving was destined for Brooklyn, but he was being replaced by Kemba Walker that he’d return to the Celtics on a new contract. But timing is everything and that factor has rarely played in the favor of Ainge.
Gasol is sitting on the last year of his max contract worth $25 million. A straight up swap leaves just $606,000 to be filled in salary to make the numbers work. He’s slowed down a step and it showed during his half season in Toronto, averaging a unspectacular 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists line. But in the final 23 games after the All-Star Break, Gasol sported an offensive rating of 119.6 and a positive net rating of 17. It isn’t hyperbole to suggest Toronto doesn’t win the title without Gasol’s subtle contributions.
The in-house solutions aren’t very much solutions. Theis is limited athletically, Williams cannot so much beyond just block, and Kanter is, sadly, unplayable in most scenarios. It’s amazing Terry Stotts managed to coach around Kanter’s limitations on defense as well as he did.
Unless Hayward is a top-15 player by the All-Star Break, this is the trade every Boston fan should be praying to become reality.