Not only did Gordon Hayward struggle for a large chunk of the 2018-19 season. The veteran forward also might have inadvertently destroyed the Boston Celtics’ locker room chemistry.
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan suggested Tuesday that Celtics coach Brad Stevens “force feeding” Hayward into Boston’s lineup — only to watch him struggle in many instances — rubbed some players the wrong way, and fellow NBA insider Chris Mannix backed up that theory Thursday on FS1’s “First Things First” while making sense of Kyrie Irving’s free agency and the road that lies ahead for the Green.
“I’ve been kind of working on my own autopsy of the Kyrie Irving situation, and this has come up, the Gordon Hayward stuff,” Mannix said. “And the word I’ve heard used repeatedly was ‘babied’ when it comes to Gordon Hayward, which is kind of akin to what Jackie MacMullan was talking about.”
Stevens faced a difficult situation with Hayward, who suffered a gruesome, season-ending injury in Boston’s first game of the 2017-18 campaign. Hayward showed signs of rust upon returning to the court — to be expected given the nature of his ankle injury — yet Stevens continued to lean on the former Utah Jazz star, often at his teammates’ expense.
“That weared on some guys,” Mannix said. “I think it weared most significantly on Jaylen Brown, someone who saw his minutes and his playing time cut back after a terrific postseason in this past year. I think it probably weared a little bit on Jayson Tatum, who was in a similar situation. Look, they had three wings for basically two spots, and somebody lost minutes as a result of that.
“So, I don’t know that that has anything to do with what Kyrie Irving went through last year. He’s an entirely separate situation. But the word ‘babied’ came up when it came to how Brad Stevens treated Gordon Hayward.”
Basically, it appeared Stevens was hoping a significant role would help Hayward rediscover both his basketball rhythm and his confidence, to the point where the 29-year-old would be the All-Star-caliber player he was in Utah once the NBA playoffs rolled around. That strategy didn’t pan out, with Hayward instead looking lost for most of the season before finally showing some life down the stretch, and it evidently ruffled some feathers.
It probably didn’t help, too, that Stevens has a history with Hayward, having coached him at Butler. It’d be easy for others to point to their relationship and wonder whether Stevens was playing favorites far too frequently.