Why Gordon Hayward's departure isn't as simple as 'Danny Ainge blew it'


Gordon Hayward is gone, leaving the Celtics to reportedly sign a four-year, $120 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets.

With the Charlotte Observer reporting that the Hornets will waive Nic Batum to create the cap space needed to fit Hayward, it looks like there will be no sign-and-trade and therefore nothing coming back to Boston. (UPDATE: A Boston Globe report Saturday night suggests a sign-and-trade is still on the table.)

The instant reaction to the news Saturday was predictable: "Danny Ainge blew it."

Given all the reports there had been about a possible sign-and-trade with the Pacers, that reaction was understandable.

Hayward was reportedly "fully focused" on going home to Indiana. The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn reported that the Pacers had offered Myles Turner and Doug McDermott in a sign-and-trade, but that Ainge wanted Turner and either T.J. Warren or Victor Oladipo instead.

So, it's easy for the narrative to turn into Ainge being greedy. He had a pretty solid offer on the table, played hardball to try to get more, and in the meantime Hayward decided to sign elsewhere, leaving Ainge with nothing.

If that is what happened, then yes, Ainge deserves criticism. But here's the thing: As of right now -- 3:20 p.m. on Saturday afternoon -- that is a big if.

We don't know if that's how it played out. We don't know if Hayward was fully ready to sign whatever deal the Pacers were offering Friday night, the Pacers were fully ready to pull the trigger on a trade, and all that was left to make it official was Ainge saying, "Yes."

Hayward may have still been listening on other offers. He may have still been negotiating contract details with Indiana. The Pacers may have still been discussing what they would've given up in a trade. A report of an offer being on the table doesn't mean it's a fact that one had formally been sent over.

Regardless, it seems that at some point Friday night, Hornets owner Michael Jordan called Hayward and sealed the deal to bring Hayward to Charlotte.

There had already been reports that the Hornets had interest in Hayward, so it's not like this came out of nowhere. That phone call from Jordan almost certainly wasn't the first contact between the two sides.

As long as a team with cap space was an option for Hayward, there was a possibility of the Celtics getting nothing in return for him.

Contrary to what some seem to believe, it was Hayward who had all the leverage, not Ainge.

Ainge only had leverage if Hayward did in fact have his heart set on Indiana. The Pacers didn't have the cap space to sign Hayward on their own, so they would've had to execute a sign-and-trade and send something to the Celtics in return.

The Hornets -- or Knicks or Hawks, for that matter -- didn't have to do that. They had the cap space to sign Hayward on their own without having to involve the Celtics, or to at least fairly easily create the necessary cap space to do so, which is what the Hornets did by waiving Batum.

So if the Pacers' offer to Hayward wasn't all that close to the Hornets' -- and there's reason to believe it wasn't -- and Hayward decided to just take the biggest offer, then there's really nothing Ainge could've done.

At that point, it's either let him walk or try to match Charlotte yourself and keep him. And you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks paying a 30-year-old, injury-prone Hayward $30 million a season for the next four years -- reportedly all guaranteed, by the way -- would've been a good investment for the Celtics.

This is similar to what happened with Al Horford last year, when he opted out of his Celtics contract and signed a four-year, $109 million deal with the 76ers, with Ainge unwilling to match.

It's easy to be upset about getting nothing in return, but when badly overpaying is the only alternative, wouldn't you rather not overpay? The Sixers have already moved on from Horford after just one season because they realized their mistake.

Maybe you could criticize Ainge for putting player options in contracts in the first place, but those are in pretty much every big contract in the NBA now. You probably wouldn't have landed Horford or Hayward in the first place without them.

And a player option means the player is in charge, which Hayward was through this whole process.

It was Hayward's choice to become a free agent, not Ainge's. And it was Hayward's choice to take the monster contract from Charlotte rather than a presumably lesser offer from Indiana that would've landed the Celtics something in return, not Ainge's.