Ex-Celtics Star Recalls ‘Difficult’ Adjustments During Time in Boston

Former Celtics star Gordon Hayward

Getty Former Celtics star Gordon Hayward (middle)

Someday Gordon Hayward may find it.

It has to be out there somewhere — the ladder he walked under, the crack upon which he stepped, the NBA mirror he didn’t realize he shattered. While the particular event is still in question, detectives have narrowed the time frame to roughly in the weeks after he signed with the Celtics as one of the prized free agents of 2017.

The wheel is still spinning, with the 32-year-old Hayward now in Charlotte and perhaps on the trade block as the Hornets look for moves that get them out of the play-in games. His undeniable talent could make him attractive to a would-be contender looking for a missing piece to bolster its rotation, though injury history could scare some clubs off.

“Yeah, it’s not been the best of journeys for me health-wise since coming to Boston,” Hayward told Heavy Sports.

Things were once looking far better for the 6-foot-7 forward, an All-Star in Utah in 2017. He had come to Boston expecting to play with Isaiah Thomas, but at his first press conference nearly two months after agreeing with the Celts, Hayward was sitting alongside Kyrie Irving, acquired in a deal that sent Thomas to Cleveland.

Near the end of that conference, Irving turned to Hayward and said, “It’s gonna be crazy, G.”

No one had yet been able to explore the depths of the relationship between crazy and Kyrie, but things certainly went horribly awry for Hayward just five minutes and 15 seconds into his first game with the Celtics. Irving missed connection with him on a lob, and Hayward came down awkwardly, shattering his lower left leg and putting him out for the season.

Hayward: ‘It Was Difficult to Navigate’

He came back the next year to play 72 games, but he was clearly not himself. A series of injuries got in the way of his 2019-20, including an ankle issue that caused him to miss 12 games in the bubble playoffs.

By the next season, he was in Charlotte, where hip, back, hand, ankle and, most recently, shoulder maladies have kept him from being a consistent presence in the lineup.

Now, about that ladder/sidewalk crack/mirror …

“I think I was pretty blessed to be pretty injury-free before (the 2017 injury),” said Hayward, who is back with the Hornets after eight games out with a shoulder contusion. “I think if you play basketball long enough, things generally happen to everybody. For me it’s just been a string of unfortunate events.”

That goes for even when he was able to play. His second year with the Celtics saw him miss 10 games and start just 18 as he sought to mesh with sophomore star Jayson Tatum, who had flourished as a rookie in the opportunity granted by Hayward’s absence.

“It was difficult trying to navigate coming back from injury, trying to navigate basically fitting into a new team, new system, new coaches, new city … so it was just a lot to navigate, and it was certainly tough, for sure,” Hayward told Heavy Sports.

Celtics Were Not the Team Hayward Expected

And truth be told, he probably never would have been a Celtic had he been a free agent in 2018. With Tatum getting so good so quickly, Danny Ainge wouldn’t have pursued him so vigorously, and Hayward wouldn’t have seen a clear role with Tatum in place.

“You know, when I originally signed in Boston, the team was supposed to be Al (Horford), me and IT. And within what must have been what seemed like less than a month that quickly changed,” Hayward said. “IT was traded to Cleveland, we get Kyrie. But when I came to Boston on all my visits, that was never discussed.

“So it was different then, and then of course I get hurt, which was probably the best thing for Jaylen (Brown) and Jayson, being able to play, get more opportunities, have more responsibility early on in their careers. There’s nothing better, in my opinion, for a player than just being able to be out there and play and work through mistakes. The Celtics were still a good team then, too, so getting a chance to go to the playoffs and get those experiences, that’s how you grow. Kyrie gets hurt, so now there’s even more experiences. Terry (Rozier) is able to step in and get those minutes.

“So it was certainly different than what I envisioned when I signed in Boston. I don’t think anyone can imagine themselves getting hurt like that, but even just from a team player personnel standpoint, it was different than what I thought it was going to be.”

It was time to move on in 2020 when Hayward opted out of the last year of his Celtic deal. The expectation was that he would go home to the Pacers, but when the Celts didn’t like their sign-and-trade options there, he was on his way to a big deal in Charlotte. There, injuries to himself and others, coupled with the Miles Bridges domestic violence saga, have kept the Hornets from the type of advancement they desire.

“There were discussions around all of that with the Pacers,” Hayward recalled. “I was living in Indy at the time. I’m from Indy, you know, and we’d just had a baby boy in Indianapolis. There were talks of trading me anyways, and Indy was a destination that I wanted to play for. So when the discussions kind of fell through and there’s other opportunities and other teams that wanted me to come play, Charlotte was one of them, and I was more than happy to jump with them.”

Hayward would be more than happy now just to be out with the Hornets for the center jump on a consistent basis. He scored 20 points in his last outing and has hit 5 of 10 3-pointers in his two games back from the shoulder problem. No doubt, he can play — if he can play.


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