July 4th is supposed to be fun. It’s hot dogs and basking in the sun and fireworks, all things I loved as a kid, but that’s changed. I’m older now. I’ll grill a nice steak over hot dogs, the heat makes me tired, and fireworks are an annoyance at this point...
...unless they’re of the Celtics variety.
When ESPN’s Chris Haynes broke the news of Gordon Hayward’s decision, I jumped out of my seat. I jumped so high that I hit my head on the ceiling fan, and to be honest, I didn’t expect to react like that. Maybe it was because I had accepted that Hayward was going to stay in Utah. Frankly, I thought that was the right thing to do; had he returned to the Jazz, I would have been disappointed but would have respected his loyalty to the franchise that drafted him. I’m old school like that. I like it when players stay with their teams for their entire career. And if he left, I was resigned to the idea that he’d go to Miami. Why not? No taxes. The lifestyle. The beach. It was always July 4th in Florida.
But he chose Boston, and I was happy like a kid on the 4th of July.
The confusion and doubt that followed Haynes’s report didn’t get me down. Enough established journalists verified Hayward’s intentions. I figured that Mark Bartelstein, Hayward’s agent, just wanted to control the story and handle the PR. None of that really mattered. That was adult stuff. Gordon Hayward was going to be a Boston Celtic, and I was pigging out on hot dogs and lighting bottle rockets in my backyard.
Over the last four years of the rebuild, every game and every season has been met with some form of qualification: “these aren’t the players that will be here when we’re contending” or “they’re overachieving based on what they’re getting paid” or maybe the most popular refrain “just wait until we cash in on those Brooklyn draft picks.” There were so many times when I felt like I wasn’t living in the moment. Losses were meaningless, and the wins felt empty. My enthusiasm flatlined because nothing mattered.
That’s not to say that I didn’t loved the past few teams. That 2014-2015 ragtag squad that eked into the playoffs was one of my favorite Celtics teams ever because despite the circumstances—all the trades, all the player movement, all the unfamiliarity—they played together and they played hard. That can be said for every Brad Stevens team, but somehow landing Gordon Hayward, a player who’s very familiar with Stevens’s approach to the game, changes everything.
You look at this team right now with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Hayward, Jae Crowder, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum (yes, I acknowledge that after publishing this article, things could change dramatically), and you see an eight-man rotation with size, speed, athleticism, and defensive and offensive versatility. More importantly, for the first time in a while, it feels like this is the core that Stevens and Ainge will build around to make a run at Banner 18 and beyond.
The Undefeated’s Marc Spears teased Celtics fans by opening up his latest piece with “......an emotional Gordon Hayward is holding the Boston Celtics’ 18th NBA championship trophy on the Oracle Arena floor after winning the 2018 NBA Finals. Isaiah Thomas is holding the MVP trophy after the handoff from Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell.” Maybe it’s a daydream, but the reality is the time is now.
We’re past guarded optimism and kicking the can down the road. Sure, there’s room for improvement (there’s always room for improvement on a Brad Stevens team), especially with 20-year-old Brown and 19-year-old Tatum. Danny Ainge will trim around the edges and try to find those P.J. Browns, Eddie Houses, and James Poseys to complement this squad. And maybe there is a big move down the road that Ainge pulls the trigger on. But for all intents and purposes, the championship window is open.
In Hayward’s Players’ Tribune piece, he talks about what drew him to Boston:
There was the amazing potential of this current Celtics team — from ownership, to the front office, to a talented roster with Isaiah, and Al, and everyone else. And of course, there was Coach Stevens: Not just for the relationship that we’ve built off the court — but also for the one that we started building on the court, all of those years ago, in Indiana.
And that unfinished business we had together, back in 2010, when I left Butler for the NBA … as far as I’m concerned, all of these years later, we still have it:
And that’s to win a championship.
Right now, there’s some finality to the rebuild. After two off-seasons of adding two talented max players to the carefully crafted core that Ainge has patiently assembled, we’ll soon be done talking about cap space accounting and CBA manipulation. We’ll leave all that to the adults in the room because 10-year-old me just wants to turn the TV on and watch the game. I can’t wait to root for this team.