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The Hayward Decision

Hayward on the Celtics has not been anywhere close to a fairy tale. It seems like this latest arc could potentially be another chapter that doesn’t go Hayward’s or the Celtics’ way, and there might not be enough pages left to turn the story around.

Gordon Hayward by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Hayward Decision


Estimated Reading Time: 9 Minutes

Professional athletes get paid a lot of money, which can lead to them not always receiving the same benefits as the general public. Most people can go to their job without a stranger saying something derogatory about their performance, but for athletes it’s seems acceptable to say this is why they are paid the big bucks.

Another area like this is parental leave. Or to be more to the point, the optics of parental leave.

For almost all the population, if you are adding a child to your family you are provided paid time off to help ease this transition. This is a law in Massachusetts.

Professional athletes can do this too, but it’s not the same. Athletes miss a game or two and then it’s right back on the field/court/rink. It’s nowhere near the weeks or months non-athletes receive.

Not only that, but a decision to miss a game for the birth of your child can even be questioned. And fans just accept these views and ignore the importance of a father being in a hospital room welcoming their child to the world.

Gordon Hayward announced this weekend he’d be leaving the NBA’s bubble in Walt Disney World if the Celtics are still in the playoffs when his wife gives birth to their fourth child.

This is Hayward’s right as a father, and a decision fathers everywhere would say is the right one.

It would be nice to think this decision will not be questioned. Celtics fans and sports radio hosts/callers have no rational, ethical or moral leg to stand on to dispute Hayward’s decision, but when has that stopped them before?

Where could this go?

The likely timing of Hayward leaving the Celtics would be in the 2nd round or Eastern Conference Finals, and the amount of time he would need to miss is ambiguous at best. There are guidelines, but there are also so many variables that predicting something like how many games Hayward could (will) miss is a fool’s errand.

The Celtics currently have the fourth best odds to win the NBA championship, meaning they’d likely be favored to make the ECF. And there is a chance Hayward misses only a few games, is not needed and returns in time to be a big part of an ECF victory (and potentially a championship).

However, one team wins the NBA title and 15 playoff teams do not.

The likelihood is the Celtics will not win the title and could be eliminated during Hayward’s absence. It would be nice to think dots would not be connected between the two. That this would not be another way Hayward’s Celtics career derailed when it looked to be headed in the right direction.

However, when Hayward’s decision was announced it was difficult not to couple a potential negative outcome with the trajectory of every event of Hayward’s Celtics career.

Hayward signed a max contract with the Celtics on July 4th, 2017 in a free agent move that seemed like fate. The underdog former college star reuniting with his underdog former college coach felt like it was headed for a storybook ending.

Hayward on the Celtics has not been anywhere close to a fairy tale. It seems like this latest arc could potentially be another chapter that doesn’t go Hayward’s or the Celtics’ way, and there might not be enough pages left to turn the story around.

The Pre-Courtship and Marriage

As soon as Brad Stevens became the head coach of the Boston Celtics, there were rumors about an eventual reunion with Hayward, his former best player at Butler. The rumors didn’t seem to really take hold until after the summer of 2016 when the Celtics missed out on Kevin Durant.

General Manager Danny Ainge decided to roll over his cap space to the summer of 2017, when Hayward would be a free agent and available to be pitched on a dream-scenario of winning a championship with his former coach.

The relationship between Hayward and Stevens also goes beyond their years at Butler. In an episode of Bill Simmons’ podcast in 2017, Hayward’s former high school teammate (and Club Trillion founder) Mark Titus told a story about Stevens being the first person to show interest in recruiting Hayward and Hayward being so loyal to him because of it. The theory was this would play a large part in Hayward potentially signing with Boston.

While Celtics fans were excited about this future acquisition, certain members of the team were not as thrilled. Forward Jae Crowder posted critical comments of fans cheering for Hayward (while playing for the Jazz) at a January 2017 game on Twitter.

Still, the Celtics headed into the summer, ready to pursue Hayward full force. Which is when the first miscue of Hayward’s Celtics career happened.

On July 4th, the news broke on Twitter that Hayward would be leaving the Utah Jazz to sign with the Celtics. Then it came out this was not true; Hayward hadn’t made up his mind yet. Then a few hours later it seemed the backtrack was caused by a plan to break the news of Hayward’s signing in a Player’s Tribune article (like Durant did the summer before). Finally, the article came out and Hayward was officially a Celtic.

This isn’t the weirdest thing to happen with a major player movement story. But it is a harbinger for how unorthodox Hayward’s years in green would be.

The Injury

There will be no video of what happened here. Google.com is a very good website for that sort of self-punishment.

What happened in Hayward’s first regular season game with the Celtics is heartbreaking. Hayward rose for an alley-oop which probably had a 1% chance of success, collided with Jae Crowder (now on the Cleveland Cavaliers) and broke his leg/ankle upon an awkward landing.

He would not play another game that season.

The 2018-19 Disaster

The Boston Celtics went into the 2018-19 season with some of the highest expectations the franchise had ever seen. The team had just made it to Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals and would return two All-Stars in Hayward and Kyrie Irving. Add this to another year of development for youngsters Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier, and 60 wins and championship predictions were everywhere.

Most knew Hayward’s return to his previous level of play would take time. The idea was the team would be so successful Hayward could ease himself back in without any added pressure.

This didn’t happen as the team went 10-10 to start the year and exhibited chemistry problems that would last throughout the season.

One example was a game with the Orlando Magic when Hayward passed to Tatum instead of Irving for a last second shot. Tatum missed, the Celtics lost, and Hayward then received this reaction from his teammate:

Hayward’s performance from game to game was also up and down, which was to be expected. However, the team’s struggles only put more of a spotlight on Hayward. An example of the variety of Hayward’s 18-19 season would be a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in December of 2018.

Hayward scored 30 points with 9 rebounds and 2 assists.

He would score 8 and 5 points respectively in the next two games, and then sit out the two games after that.

Hayward also scored 27 total points over the four game sweep the Celtics suffered to the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2019 playoffs.

When the dirt was buried on this version of the Celtics, one of the stories that came out was Hayward’s teammates being upset with Hayward being given significant playing time despite his performance.

It stands to reason a player coming back from a devastating injury would need a high amount of playing time and the growing pains of that player’s return would need to be endured to get him back to his old self. Still, it seemed like Hayward’s relationship with Stevens made this situation resemble a Little League Coach letting his son play shortstop and hit leadoff.

A fresh season

When the 2019-20 season started, the expectations were somewhat lowered for both the Celtics and Hayward. The team had added All-Star Kemba Walker but had lost Irving and Al Horford. The previous season performances from Hayward, Tatum and Brown also provided uncertainty on the ceiling of this year’s team.

Hayward started the season at an All-Star level though. He averaged a 20/8/5 line while shooting 44% from three through the first seven games. Then he broke his left hand.

Hayward missed the next 13 games, came back for three games, broke his nose and missed another three games. There likely were people with snakes hanging from their arms who thought, “Man, this guy is unlucky.”

The positive, and what all pro-Hayward fans can look to right now, is Hayward only missed three more games for the rest of the season. He also averaged 17/7/4 through January and February while the Celtics went 17-10 (Walker also missed 12 of these games with a knee injury).

Then the NBA shutdown because of COVID-19.

Let’s rewind what has happened during Gordon Hayward’s three seasons as a Celtic:

  • Year One – Gruesome injury in the first game of the year that cost him the full season
  • Year Two – Part of one of the most underachieving and worst chemistry teams of the last decade. Also, was a teammate of Kyrie Irving
  • Year Three – Breaks his hand and nose and misses nearly 20 games. There is a global pandemic that delays the season and now forces him to miss playoff games so he can see the birth of his child.

This just seems mean.

How does it end?

Hayward can opt-out this offseason and sign elsewhere. If the Celtics lose without Hayward in the playoffs and he leaves, it will wrap up one of the more disappointing Celtics careers in recent memory. If Hayward’s last three seasons were played out in a simulation 100 times, it’d be difficult to imagine many versions being worse than that one.

The challenge to Celtics fans and sports radio hosts/callers would be if Hayward is gone during a playoff loss this September, don’t turn him into a scapegoat. Hayward chose Boston. He chose to reunite with Stevens. His effort during his time in green cannot be questioned. He just had some really awful luck.

And he made a decision to leave his job for a few days to be with his family as they welcomed a new child. A basic right that isn’t questioned in any other profession.

So be cool, everybody.

It is obviously unknown how Hayward’s Celtic career is going to go from here. It’d be nice to think it starts going in the right direction. The Celtics win the title, either this year or in the next few seasons, and Hayward is a large part of it. That he and Stevens are able to write the ending every Celtics fan (and maybe even Butler fans) envisioned in July of 2017. That’s the story all Celtics fans can still hope they’ll be able to read one day.

It won’t be easy to believe in that during the hellscape that is 2020. But hope is a powerful and wonderful thing.

Terry is from Massachusetts and is a passionate fan of the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins. He also will admit he only pays attention to Syracuse basketball when they're good. If there's a Twitter trade rumor even remotely associated with one of his teams, he's likely fallen for it. Finally, he believes 100% that if the Celtics had beaten the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals they would have swept the Thunder in the Finals.

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