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Stop waiting for Gordon Hayward to return this season

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Or at least try. Putting any hope on Hayward’s return is a recipe for disappointment.

NBA: Boston Celtics-Press Conference Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

From the moment we were informed of a vague, sort-of timeline for Gordon Hayward’s return, I knew this was going to happen. Months and months of speculation, non-committal updates, and awkward interview answers by Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens (neither of whom can use Doc Rivers’ old “You know Doc is just a nickname, right?” joke).

I get it. I’m a Hayward fan, and I can’t wait to see him on the court. His skillset is precisely what this team is missing at this moment. As a competitor, he’s got to be itching to get back on the court. Everyone wants this to happen, but wanting doesn’t make the body heal any faster. And I don’t have to remind anyone the dangers of rushing back from injury too soon.

Understandably fans aren’t exactly sure what to do with this uncertainty. Some are patiently waiting to find out more information. Some have convinced themselves that Hayward is going to come back and “save” our season. Most are probably somewhere in the spectrum in between.

So this is my plea to all Celtics fans. For your sake and for his, don’t get your hopes up too high on Gordon Hayward’s potential return this season. That is a good way of setting yourself up for disappointment.

Let’s look at what Brad Stevens said last night. (via ESPN)

“I mean, we’ll bring him on the road when we can, when he can do stuff on the road,” Stevens said, “but that’s for his own benefit, to get back into the gyms, to get back into his routine, to cheer on his teammates and everything else. As long as he can get more accomplished at our facility or with our trainers when we sent him or left him in Southern California, then that’s going to be the priority, but we have no expectation of Gordon being back this season.”

Brad is trying to manage expectations here. Yes, getting him to travel with the team and be present in the Celtics’ facilities is a positive sign for his rehab process. No, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the timeline for him returning to the court has been defined or moved up or anything like that.

Thinking this through logically, even if the best case scenario happens and he’s able to start practicing with the team before the end of the regular season (which seems like a long shot, but work with me here), he would still not be anywhere close to game shape. Moreover, he’ll need some time to gain confidence in his ankle again.

The bottom line is, he’s not going to be All-Star Hayward yet. Isaiah Thomas is a different player with a different injury, but his struggles after returning from injury are a good reminder that “cleared to play” and “back to normal” are two very different conversations.

Don’t get me wrong—barring unexpected setbacks, the team isn’t likely to shut down hope of him coming back altogether. If he does get cleared to play, they will look to bring him along and perhaps even get him into the rotation. But by that time we could be in the playoffs, where every possession is critical. He might only play 5–15 minutes a game in that scenario.

Personally, I’m doing everything I can to set my expectations at zero. I’m happy to be pleasantly surprised by seeing him on the court sooner than next season—I’m just not counting on it.