“I don’t believe that Gordon thinks he’s going to play [this season]. I don’t think so, no.” —Celtics GM Danny Ainge
“He’s not playing this year.” —Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
Celtics’ brass has been consistent and clear since early in the season, working to squash the “Gordon Hayward will return as our savior” talk. Yet the dream will not die… because of Hayward. He posts videos, then said this Friday, via Chris Forsberg of ESPN:
“My thoughts are that I take it day by day. And I said that from the very beginning, that’s what I would do, not putting a timetable on it,” Hayward said Friday while unveiling a new gym for students at the Timilty Middle School in Roxbury. “The recovery is going well. I’m progressing well. I was in the facility this morning, will be in the facility tomorrow. And that’s kinda my goal — just really focusing day by day….
“The hope is still there,” Hayward said. “It’s something where I’m really honestly not even thinking about it. I know we’re getting toward the end of the year. It’s something that I’m still working toward, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”
It’s all a matter of perspective. Players are often the worst judges of their return times — they see themselves as invincible, it’s part of how they got to where they are. But they all think they can return faster than doctors predict. They are rarely right.
In this case, the Celtics as an organization continue to think long-term. They are about being next after whatever LeBron James decides in July. They are about dominating the East for years, not just the 2018 playoffs. The Celtics are the two seed in the East right and have a shot to make the Finals this season as is, there is no reason to rush Hayward back.
But Hayward is never going to see it that way. He’s a competitor. He wants to play sooner rather than later. He sees his teammates out there, he sees the success and failures they are having, and he sees how he can help. He wants to play.
But the man’s ankle was still slightly purple and swollen All-Star Weekend. That’s not a guy near ready to be back, making NBA cuts and moves. Let alone during the playoffs, when the opponent is going to attack him in a pick-and-roll or isolation every time down the court to test that ankle.
Hayward and the Celtics fans have the same dream. But to use the title of the best Winona Ryder movie ever as truth: