Forward Kevin Garnett spent only six of his 21 seasons as an NBA star with the Celtics, but his time in Boston remains cherished by both him and by Celtics fans. It was the acquisition of Garnett in 2007, after all that rebooted a wayward franchise and brought the Celtics the 2008 championship, as well as a trip to the 2010 NBA Finals.
So he has some credibility among Celtics loyalists. When he told USA Today, then, that he does not quite see how forward Gordon Hayward fits in with budding Celtics stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, then, it was worthy of attention.
“I love Gordon [Hayward] to death,” Garnett told Celtics Wire, part of the USA Today network. “I just don’t know where it fits in the growth of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. You have a trifecta, you know? And it just looks at times like he doesn’t fit or he tries too hard. It just looks like he doesn’t fit.”
Hayward has been out since August 17 with a Grade III ankle sprain. He suffered the injury in the playoff opener against Philadelphia and has been rehabbing in hopes of getting back on the floor for the Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals series against the Heat, which they trail after losing Game 1.
Hayward was listed as “doubtful” for Game 2 on Thursday night. The Celtics have gone 8-4 in the postseason to date.
Without Gordon Hayward, Kevin Garnett Celtics Have ‘Simplicity’
Garnett did say that he thought the Celtics could use Hayward in the Miami series. The Celtics have three stars in the lineup—All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, plus Tatum and Brown—and have consistent, if offensively challenged, center Daniel Theis. Defensive ace Marcus Smart has been a wildcard, capable of hot-shooting nights as well as big-time dud games.
Smart scored 26 points, making 6-of-13 from the 3-point line, in Game 1.
“This is the time when you need all of your stars, you need all of your pieces,” Garnett said. “It would be a great thing to have him coming back.”
Garnett said, though, that over the long term, the Celtics would be better off without Hayward and, instead, emphasizing the Tatum-Brown dynamic with Walker, Smart and Theis or another big man.
“With him out, it’s a simplicity for Marcus Smart to come in and play a certain way,” Garnett said. “It seems like a simplicity for Kemba Walker to come in and play a certain way… Tatum. It just seems like a more simplistic system when those four, or those three, are kind of working.”
Gordon Hayward Player Option Looms for Boston Celtics
The future of Hayward will be a hot topic once the season is over for the Celtics. He signed on with Boston, with much fanfare, in the summer of 2017, but has been unable to stay healthy in his time with the Celtics, missing all but the first five minutes of the 2017-18 season and portions of the last two seasons.
Being out for all but one game of this year’s playoffs has, again, left the Celtics waiting on Hayward to rehab. The fact that they have played well without him surely lends some credibility to Garnett’s point.
The wildcard for Hayward, though, is the $34.7 million player option he holds for next year. It is possible that Hayward could opt out of that part of his deal and hit free agency this offseason. But because league finances have been hammered by the impact of the novel coronavirus that put the league on a four-month hold before returning without fans in a bubble environment in Orlando, it would be unwise for Hayward to exercise that option.
That means he is likely back on the inflated contract for next season. The Celtics could look to trade him, but given his recent injury history, that would be a difficult task.
Maybe the Celtics would be better without Hayward. But they are likely to have him in place for another season.