WALTHAM, Mass. -- Ten days after Gordon Hayward announced his decision to join the Boston Celtics, the team completed the necessary series of transactions that allowed Hayward to ink his four-year, $128 million maximum-salary contract on Friday.
Hayward announced his decision to sign with Boston on July 4 after visiting with the Celtics, Miami Heat and Utah Jazz at the start of free agency. The Celtics didn't enter the summer with enough cap space to sign Hayward to a max contract, so they worked recently to clear the space while trying to build the most competitive roster possible. The contract he signed Friday includes a $29.7 million first-year salary.
"The last couple weeks have been pretty crazy for me," Hayward said. "There was just something different about Boston and different about being a Celtic. It was just a special feeling when talking about being a Boston Celtic. And that ultimately won me over."
Joining Boston reunites Hayward with coach Brad Stevens, the former coach at Butler University who recruited Hayward and coached him at Butler. While Hayward acknowledged that his familiarity with Stevens made Boston feel that much more comfortable, Stevens said he focused on the future and not the past when pitching Hayward on joining the Celtics.
"I think that one of the things that I really tried to do was talk about why the transition was so great for me and my family and also how hard it was to initially make the transition," Stevens said. "It was something that we had to really deliberate on, something that we had to really think about. I had spent 13 years at Butler, so I could understand the emotions that he was wrestling with having spent his last seven years with Utah.
"We tried to be empathetic towards that and talk about, again, why we thought it was a great situation from the standpoint of what we're trying to continue to accomplish with the Celtics and how seamlessly we felt that he'd fit into that. We tried to keep much more of a focus on the now then our relationship from 10 years ago."
Still, Hayward cited "unfinished business" and Butler's heartbreaking loss to Duke in the 2010 NCAA title game as a reason to work with Stevens again. He's eager to chase another title with Stevens, this time in Celtics green instead of Butler blue.
Hayward will wear No. 20 in Boston, meaning the number will not be retired for Ray Allen. No player has worn the jersey since Allen joined the Heat in 2012.
A lower-than-expected salary cap forced Boston to make some tough choices in order to create room for Hayward. The Celtics generated $3.8 million in cap room when they traded Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris last week, and then waived third-year forward Jordan Mickey on Friday before his $1.5 million salary became guaranteed. Boston previously rescinded its qualifying offer to Kelly Olynyk, who then signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Heat.
With the necessary cap space, the Celtics were able to sign Hayward to his max contract. The pact includes a player option in the fourth year, which would allow Hayward to return to free agency with 10 seasons of NBA service. At that point he would be able to sign another megadeal at up to 35 percent of a salary cap that's currently projected at $112 million, meaning his first-year salary could be as high as $39.2 million.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said the team is still working to finalize the rest of its roster and would explore additional moves. Boston is expected to sign 2016 first-round pick Guerschon Yabusele, who spent last season stashed in China and the D-League (now known as the G League). The Celtics also plan to sign 2016 second-round pick Abdel Nader to a four-year deal, according to a league source, while the team is exploring ways to lock up 2017 second-round pick Semi Ojeleye with a long-term deal despite evaporating cap space.
Once the Celtics scale over the salary cap, they will formally announce the signing of free-agent center Aron Baynes, who has agreed to a one-year, $4.3 million contract, utilizing the full value of the midlevel exception.
Meeting with reporters Friday at the team practice's facility, Ainge detailed how assistant general manager Mike Zarren traveled from Las Vegas to San Diego to have Hayward sign his deal Friday morning.
Ainge admitted the team felt good after its meeting with Hayward on July 2, but that didn't make waiting to hear a decision any easier.
"It was nerve-wracking, quite honestly," Ainge said. "I think that we were hopeful. We felt like we had a great meeting with him ... and had a good day with him. When he left we felt good about that.
"But we also know and respect his ties to Utah and his meeting also with Miami, a very good organization we have a great deal of respect for. So we really had no idea. He didn't really give us any hint when he left. So we were just waiting like everybody else, like the rest of the world. And it came out with a premature report he was coming to Boston. When I heard from his agent [Mark Bartelstein] that that wasn't true, that he had not made a decision, I went, 'Oh, no. That could be really bad.'
"So we were just on pins and needles the whole day until we finally got the word."
During Hayward's conference call, he maintained that he had not made a decision about his future when ESPN first reported that he would join the Celtics.
"I think it's definitely fair to say that I was leaning towards Boston, but at the same time we hadn't figured it out," Hayward said. "And I was going back and forth with Mark. And we were really discussing throughout the day different reasons why or why not I should go to a different place. I was literally on the phone with Mark when the story broke online. And I'm getting, like, I'm looking at my phone, I'm getting blown up, [people] saying I'd decided to become a Boston Celtic. And everybody knows it was all over the internet."
Added Hayward: "I know there were a lot of reports with people saying we were just finishing up the article for the Tribune, which is just completely false. ... I'm kind of bummed how it happened, but in this day and age that type of stuff goes on. And there's sometimes not much you can do about it."
"[Hayward is] a good fit because he's just a complete player," Ainge said. "He could fit with any team. He can play 1 through 4 positions. And he can handle the ball. He can play off the ball. He can defend multiple positions. He's a hard-nosed and very unselfish player that is capable of taking over stretches of games."
"I think that we're better [than last season]. We're a better team," Ainge said. "We've added some good pieces with Marcus Morris coming on board as well. I think Marcus is another versatile player that brings an element of toughness to our team that we're very excited about. ... We also lost Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk, who are terrific players.
"But we have some really good young players that are coming in, too, that really earned and deserve a chance to play. So I feel like our team's in a better position than we were last year, for sure."
And Hayward didn't shy away when asked if winning a title was a reasonable goal for Boston this season.
"That's our goal. That's something that I'm working right now so I can be a better player to help the Boston Celtics get that accomplished," Hayward said. "It's something that I for sure think is attainable for us. I think there's a lot of work for us to do, but it's what we're striving for and I couldn't be more excited about that."