Hayward a Perfect Piece for C's Banner 18 Puzzle

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics have been in pursuit of an elite wing scorer since the summer of 2013 when the Paul Pierce era came to an end.

Finally, the hunt is over. The Celtics announced Friday afternoon that they have found their man. Free agent, All-Star forward Gordon Hayward has decided to join Boston on its quest for Banner 18.

“We think Gordon’s a fantastic player and a great fit into our system,” Celtics president of basketball operations said moments after the announcement was made. “He’s a very unselfish player that’s multi-faceted, multi-positional and fits in great with what we’re trying to do.”

Hayward spent his first seven NBA seasons as the cornerstone of the Utah Jazz, for whom he tallied career averages of 15.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. He displayed significant growth every season in Salt Lake City, and is coming off of the first All-Star campaign of his career, during which he averaged 21.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.5 APG and shot 38.9 percent from 3-point range.

When Hayward revealed his decision on July 4 in an essay on the Players’ Tribune website, he explained that leaving the team that developed him was the hardest choice of his life. As difficult as it was, the 27-year-old was drawn to the Celtics’ organization.

“I think he recognizes that Boston is a special place and I think that he really likes the guys on our team,” coach Brad Stevens said Friday afternoon in a conference call. “Having played against [our players] and having studied them, I think he thinks, and rightfully so, that he’ll fit in very well.”

Hayward confirmed in his Players’ Tribune article that he is captivated by Boston’s sports-driven culture. He is enamored by the Celtics’ rich tradition. And he is encouraged by the unlimited potential of Boston’s current young core.

Most of all, he could not pass up on the opportunity to reunite with Stevens, his former college coach at Butler University. The pair helped guide the Bulldogs on a Cinderella-run in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, which ended in a gut-wrenching, 61-59 loss to Duke in the National Championship Game.

The NCAA title loss left a void for both parties, and now they have the opportunity to fill it with an NBA title.

“That unfinished business we had together, back in 2010, when I left Butler for the NBA,” Hayward wrote. “As far as I’m concerned, all these years later, we still have it.

“And that’s to win a championship.”

Not only will that goal be attainable for Hayward, Stevens and the rest of the Celtics; it could be attainable immediately.

Last season, the Celtics had the top regular season record in the Eastern Conference. They made it through the first two rounds, knocking off formidable foes in Chicago and Washington, respectively, before being bounced out of the Eastern Conference Finals by the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Boston’s overall success cemented it as one of the top teams in the NBA, and that was before Hayward arrived. Now that he’s joined the cause, the Celtics are primed to be even better – much better.

Hayward is a perfect piece for Boston’s system – he’s is a strong playmaker, can space the floor and, to Stevens’ delight, is an incredibly versatile player.

“Gordon is a guy that in a lot of situations is the primary ball handler and can play that way,” said Stevens. “So you could play him with the ball and Isaiah (Thomas) off the ball, or vise versa. You can play him at the 1, 2, 3, sometimes 4.”

Another important asset that Hayward brings is that he can create his own shot and he’s able to score from anywhere on the court. This is great news for Thomas, who led the East in scoring last season but was often double- and triple-teamed by the opposition. Hayward’s scoring ability should ease the pressure off of IT, while creating a more well-rounded and less predictable offensive attack.

Not only should Hayward positively impact the present state of the organization; his decision to sign with the Celtics will likely make Boston a more desirable place to play for future free agents.

Prior to last summer, Boston was not considered to be a primary free agent destination. In fact, the C’s had never signed a star free agent until last July when four-time All-Star Al Horford left Atlanta to ink a multi-year deal with Boston. Horford’s addition in the frontcourt allowed the Celtics to improve drastically during the 2016-17 season, which helped open the door to lure in Hayward.

Now that Hayward is on board, along with prized rookie draft pick Jayson Tatum, the Celtics should improve even more. This should add to the snowball effect and open door even wider for future star free agents to walk through.

Piece by piece, the championship puzzle is gradually taking form in Boston. It contains a high-scoring playmaker in Thomas, a veteran, frontcourt leader in Horford, a defensive stud in Marcus Smart, and young, developing role players in Jaylen Brown and Tatum.

And now it contains an elite wing scorer in Hayward – a critical piece that the Celtics have been yearning for in order to take their next step on their journey to Banner 18.

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