That’s all Danny Ainge said about Gordon Hayward returning this season on Toucher and Rich this morning. Neither this round, nor potentially in Eastern Conference Finals. If they get to the NBA Finals, forget about it.
Despite early indications that Hayward could possibly play in late March or April, May arrived this week with no hope, as the Celtics exercise an abundance of caution regarding their max free agent signing, who broke his ankle and part of his leg on Opening Night.
“I think he’s on schedule,” Ainge said regarding any possible setback that hindered his ability to play this year. “He’s making progress. We’re just not taking any chances.”
Hayward began a running program recently. Without the ability to cut, sprint and make the athletic movements that are especially required in playoff basketball, there’s no chance he’ll contribute before the season ends, even as the young cast led by Brad Stevens progressed to 5-3 in the postseason.
He’s sporadically present on the bench, though Kyrie Irving, Daniel Theis and now Jaylen Brown fill seats regularly. Across the board Ainge and the organization emphasized caution. Theis and Irving ended their seasons with knee surgery. Brown suffered a grade one hamstring strain in game seven of the Bucks series and has fought hard to play, but he’s doubtful for game two vs. the 76ers, according to Stevens.
“We don’t want to take any chances with Jaylen,” Ainge said. He added that Brown’s close, as he can run, sprint and jump despite missing practice yesterday.
Irving, who commands the far right seat at end of the bench where he applauds his team and smirks speaking to Guerschon Yabusele to his left, appeared on Sportscenter with Scott Van Pelt to discuss his perspective on the super-cautious approach the players and team have had to take through countless injuries this season.
Recovering from his Apr. 7 surgery to remove material from his knee following an infection, he said he misses the intensity of this time of year, that has instead gone the other way for him. He remembers his blood boiling, cohesion developing between his teammates and him as the most important games approach. Instead he’s settled into offseason mode, with a dose of zen and meditation.
“Patience is its truest virtue,” he said. “I try to hold a lot of my principles to the highest esteem for myself in order to grow. You try to not separate it from basketball and life, but it always has correlation to one another. Me being off the floor gives me a chance to develop some things in my life that I need going forward. As well as on the court I can develop some things within the weight room, also with my body, understanding some mental aspects that I can take, and just learn as much as possible from the bench and support the guys.”
Staying involved around the team helps, he said, as he attempts to stay engaged with his teammates often. He credits the support the veterans and youth provided each other with for the team’s postseason success in spite of its injuries. Ainge, visible on the sideline aggressively passing a referee the ball while flanked by Mike Gorman behind him, praised the play of Terry Rozier in Irving’s absence. He wouldn’t pick between him and Marcus Smart toward the future.
It’s Rozier and Smart’s back court now, and whether or not Brown rejoins them, there’s no pressure beyond enjoying every extra step this team makes beyond expectations. They entered the year Finals contenders and somehow still entered the postseason overlooked underdogs.