When the Boston Celtics signed free agent Gordon Hayward to a max contract this past summer, the organization took a major step forward. That was even before they completed a blockbuster trade for Kyrie Irving.
However, in the very first game of the year, Hayward suffered one of the most gruesome injuries ever seen on a basketball court, visibly dislocating and breaking his ankle at the anguish of himself and everyone watching.
Obviously, the road to recovery will not be an easy one and will take some time. Although it was never made official, it was originally presumed that Hayward would miss the entirety of the 2017-2018 season and perhaps even longer.
But, based on a stunning revelation, that might not be the case.
On Wednesday, Hayward’s wife Robyn posted an Instagram story that showed her husband barefoot (without his walking boot). That caused a bit of a stir and led to coach Brad Stevens fielding questions before Boston's game against the Dallas Mavericks.
“He wears the boot until a certain time every evening and then he can take it off,” Stevens told reporters. “When he moves around, he can move around with a brace that’s like a boot. … He is progressing and doing what he can do — what he’s been cleared to do. It’s been going well. He still wears a boot when he comes over to the gym. He’s wearing the boot for most of the day.”
A day later, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said that Hayward’s recovery is on schedule during his weekly appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher and Rich.
“He’s progressing along,” Ainge said. “He can take the boot off for short periods of time. But he’s doing really well. His therapy is going great. He’s right on schedule. He’s doing sometimes two workouts a day and trying to get stronger. The next phases are getting out of the boot completely.”
Ainge revealed that Hayward is just two weeks away from taking off the walking boot for good.
Naturally, the question then became whether or not Hayward could make a triumphant return sometime at the end of the regular season or in the playoffs. But, Ainge didn’t want to go that far yet.
“You know he hasn’t expressed that,” he explained. “Just knowing professional athletes, I know that down inside he wants to be back faster than anybody has ever been back from this kind of injury … I know what’s going on in his mind, but I don’t think he’ll say anything about how fast he wants to get back.”
At 22-4, the Celtics own the best record in the NBA heading into Friday’s slate. Therefore, they have exceeded expectations, going 22-2 over their last 24 games after losing the first two games adjusting to Hayward’s void.
However, Isaiah Thomas will be making his highly-anticipated debut for the Cleveland Cavaliers sometime this month which will make them even more dangerous. The Cavs are on a 13-game winning streak and seem like they’re poised to make their fourth-straight run to the NBA Finals.
Therefore, Hayward’s presence (if at full health) in the playoffs might be needed to overcome the plethora of talent on Cleveland’s roster. Although Hayward’s future is certainly important, hanging banner No. 18 in the rafters is what will probably take precedence in Boston.