Sources: Celtics’ Hayward opts out, will be UFA

Gordon Hayward opted out of his $34.2 million contract with the Boston Celtics for the 2020-21 season Thursday afternoon, making him an unrestricted free agent beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, league sources tell ESPN.

Hayward, who averaged 17.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 52 games for the Celtics this season, originally had to make a decision on whether to opt in or out of his contract by 5 p.m. Tuesday, before both sides agreed to move that decision back to Thursday afternoon to leave more time to assess the situation.

Ultimately, though, Hayward chose to become an unrestricted free agent — making him the biggest name to hit the open market this offseason, and his future the number one topic of discussion around the league.

There are now three options available to Hayward: re-sign with the Celtics on a long-term deal, sign with one of the two teams with significant cap space — the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks — as a free agent, or agree to a sign-and-trade with a team that doesn’t have enough cap space to sign him, which would then allow Boston to get something in return for his departure.

Hayward has had a tumultuous three years in Boston. After joining the Celtics in 2017, signing a four-year max contract after spending his first seven NBA seasons with the Utah Jazz, Hayward suffered a gruesome foot and ankle injury six minutes into his first game with the Celtics that October. He missed the rest of that season because of the injury, and then struggled at times in 2018-19, his first full season back, before taking a significant step forward this past season.

Still, he dealt with more injuries, breaking a bone in his hand in November and dealing with nerve pain in his foot in December before suffering a Grade 3 sprain of his right ankle in Game 1 of Boston’s first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers inside the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort.

The injury kept him out until midway through the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat.

In addition to the news about Hayward Thursday, the Celtics also saw Enes Kanter pick up his $5 million player option for next season, while the team exercised its $1.75 million option on the final year of forward Semi Ojeleye’s contract, as well.

With those moves — along with the selections of Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard in the first round of Wednesday’s NBA Draft — Boston has 13 players under contract for next season, and, without Hayward’s salary currently on the books, sits far below the projected luxury tax threshold of a little more than $132 million.

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