The Potential Down Side of Gordon Hayward’s Signing with Boston Celtics

The Red Sox have been burned a bunch by big signings who couldn't handle Boston. Could the Celtics fall into that same trap?


One thing you notice as you make your way through the late-20s of life and spend an NBA max-deal equivalent of your own personal salary cap to attend the litany of nuptials, is that there are big downsides to destination weddings.

You definitely get the glory of visiting a cool locale and enjoying the benefits of being there, but it’s unlikely the guest list is going to include everyone you’d want, the cash for travel, transportation and lodging adds up and you’re just kind of stuck with the situation.

That last part can be a scary proposition, and it’s an issue that should be far from foreign to Boston sports fans. Over the past decade-plus, the residents at Fenway Park have tossed around huge contracts like tourists’ loose change at Brewer Fountain on The Common.

Carl Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, John Lackey, Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo, Dice-K and maybe even David Price can be bandied about as examples of faltering under the weight of big money and big expectations.

The Red Sox get guys of this caliber and cost because they are a baseball destination. April through October in Boston isn’t bad from a weather standpoint, the Sox brass has never shied away from opening the checkbook and the franchise owns three titles in the last 15 years along with a fervent fanbase.

So, as the Boston Celtics start growing into somewhat of a destination, signing arguably two of the top three free agents available over the last two years (and probably the top two free agents in their own personal franchise history), can fans learn something from the green team’s cross-town neighbors?

Is there a downside to being a destination?

What we’re really looking at here is the potential elephant graveyard of signing Gordon Hayward. There’s no doubt adding a 27-year-old coming off a 21.9 ppg season on 47/40/84 splits is a good thing in a vacuum, but what about everything beyond what the light touches?

If you want a breakdown on what Hayward looks like meshing with the Celtics lineups, check out the Roundtable guys on our Celtics Newsfeed. What we’re going to discuss here is whether or not there’s a chance this could all go south.

Admittedly, I’ve been pretty intrigued by the idea of Hayward for some time. Beyond a minor dislike of him and his camp completely ruining Fourth of July plans, he seems like a generally good dude and excellent basketball player who had a hell of a first-round in an upset over the Clippers this spring.

However, the more Pablo Sandoval and David Price’s names get spoken the tougher it is to not at least consider the potential downside to the Hayward signing. In Episode 2 of Season 2 of Bob Ryan’s Boston Podcast, now a part of our CLNS Media Network, Boston-native and current ESPN journalist Howard Bryant planted a seed of Hayward doubt that my mind couldn’t help but run with.

“The second question that I have on Gordon Hayward is: Really good player on team nobody’s watching. What’s he going to do when the lights are on every single day here,” asked Bryant during the interview. “When I watched Utah in the postseason, they ran their offense through Joe Johnson, they ran the fourth quarter through Joe Johnson. Is Gordon Hayward a flow-of-the-offense guy, or can he take over quarters? At some point, you’re going to need him to do that. If he is a flow-of-the-offense guy, the Celtics are going to have a problem.”

Now, in Hayward’s favor, his usage rate in fourth quarters last season was 28.8 percent, compared to Johnson’s 21 percent, but beyond that the rating numbers and field goal percentages were very similar. Hayward ranked 37th in the league in fourth-quarter usage (18th among those who averaged as many Q4 minutes as him). That is probably more of a credit to Johnson than a detractor for Hayward, though. And, when you consider Isaiah Thomas’ fourth quarter usage rate of 41.2 percent, any help at all would be greatly appreciated.

Again though, as Bryant stated, this was all as a member of the Jazz where expectations are almost certainly lower. Utah has made one Conference Finals since 1998 and averaged a third-worst 90.5 percent road gym attendance capacity last year. Boston made the East Finals this spring, has mammoth expectations and was the eighth-best traveling attendance team in 2016-17 (94.6 percent). The Utah Jazz official Twitter account has 680,000 followers. @Celtics tweets out to 2.4 million.

The issue that should potentially concern fans more than anything Hayward is capable of doing on the court is the emotional aspect of things. Obviously, Hayward isn’t DeMarcus Cousins or even Marcus Smart when it comes to worrying about off-court problems or on-court extracurriculars.

However, as we’ve seen time and again with various Red Sox players, some guys aren’t built to handle the market. Barry Petchesky wrote a piece for Deadspin back in 2011 attempting to dispel the idea that Boston media crushed the likes of John Lackey. His story does a partially good job of making this idea all about the self-importance of local media folks.

However, at this point six years later, there is just no denying it as a factor. As Bryant details the storylines of Nomar Garciaparra, Carl Crawford and Jason Giambi. The David Price-Dennis Eckersley situation. Evidence isn’t going away. One key thing Petchesky got wrong is calling Boston a “myth of the big-city microscope,” when comparing it to NYC, Philadelphia or Chicago. Boston isn’t a big city. It’s a small city. Those other three were top-six in US population as of a 2016 census. Boston was 22nd.

Boston truly is a crucible; an insulated vice from which there is no escape from rabid fans and media.

“I felt it a little bit at the airport. That was the only time we were really around people,” Hayward said to Adrian Wojnarowski on the Woj Pod when speaking of his initial Boston visit. He compared it to Miami, where – due to heavy security – barely anybody seemed to know he was in town.

He then told Woj a story of his first night out in Boston; going to dinner and buying a suit for a press conference that never happened:

“I could feel it then, though, the intensity. We went to the North End, I got my haircut and we had a night in the heart of Boston. We jumped in and you could feel everybody was excited and saying how happy people were that I was in Boston. It was a different feeling for sure.”

Granted Hayward hails from a place as basketball-crazed as anywhere in the known world, he did attend a mid-major school with a undergrad population of around 4,000. Just as he was becoming a NBA superstar, getting the royal Vinny Chase treatment of a big-time free agent, he opted to sign with his old college coach. Comfort was a large deciding factor for Hayward and his family.

Ask Pablo Sandoval or David Price if they felt or feel comfortable in Boston.

This isn’t a problem we’ve really seen with the Celtics since Rick Pitino’s infamous rant. But that doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. Kevin Garnett was just a dude who could handle it. Ray Allen, for the most part, was an introvert during his years with the team and was able to ignore everything due to his own version of mental strength. Paul Pierce felt it early on, but clearly wound up strong enough to thrive within it.

Lately, Jae Crowder let it get to him briefly, but actually went so far as to fight back against it. Isaiah Thomas is the beneficiary of low-expectations and even he, during an All-NBA season, had brief periods of fan and media question. Al Horford has a bit of Allen in him and was a seasoned enough veteran when he arrived. He made it through the absurd paternity leave situation with ease.

One has to wonder, did Crowder have a point when he went after those cheering Hayward when the Jazz came to town? Does he still have a point. He knows what it takes to play in Boston because he came into his own under that spotlight. While he isn’t the pure basketball talent Hayward is, and I’m not preaching for Jae over Gordon, he has proven his worth in a more intense situation and clearly didn’t think the Jazz wing could hack it as well as himself.

Hayward’s introductory press conference with Boston media took place over the phone from San Diego, while most Celtics reporters and eyes were at Summer League. He’s still in San Diego and still hasn’t stood in front of the cameras to hold up that green jersey more than three weeks after the Player’s Tribune story dropped.

As for those mammoth expectations, they are very real entering the 2017-18 season. Anything less than 55 wins will be considered sub-par. With Cleveland’s current turmoil, the defending regular season champions in the East will be viewed as a definitive contender to make the Finals. According to’s RJ Bell, the Celtics have the third-best odds to win the title right now in Las Vegas at 13/1.

On top of the odds and win totals, Boston’s fan base is growing tired of being teased; both by the larger NBA world and the team itself. They’ve been a cute and plucky group of overachieving role players for years now and fans have heard far more “fake No. 1 seed talk” than their ears could handle. Celtics fans are ready for the real thing and if it doesn’t take things will get messy.

“The Celtic lore to me is special because of how invested the fans are and how invested the organization is to winning and greatness,” Hayward told Wojnarowski. “Utah has a tradition of success as well, so I had felt some of that before. Obviously not on any level near the Celtics. The fans are going to be invested in you and it’s going to be a fun atmosphere to play in for sure.”

Boston and TD Garden can definitely present a fun atmosphere, but so can destination weddings

If things don’t go quite as smooth as planned, though, and that airline bill comes in at the end of the month, Boston can be far from a fun place to be.