“It’s about to be crazy, G.”
Kyrie Irving delivered that now-infamous forecast during he and Gordon Hayward’s introductory press conference with the Boston Celtics in September 2017. Neither star likely ever could have imagined what actually was about to unfold.
Hayward sustained a gruesome lower-leg injury the following month, which derailed his entire debut season in Boston. The veteran forward returned for the 2018-19 campaign, but he was a shell of the All-Star player he was just a few years ago. Hayward’s struggle to return to form was among the glut of issues the Celtics endured last season, which concluded with a disappointing second-round exit.
Given all that transpired, it was far from a surprise to see Irving walk in free agency this summer. But had Hayward been his peak self, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan believes things might have played out differently.
“If Hayward would have come back, healthier and stronger mentally, I do think things would have different,” MacMullan said on NBC Sports Boston’s “Michael Holley Podcast, as transcribed by SB Nation. “I think he would have felt more empowered to stand up to Kyrie when some of that stuff was going on in that locker room.
“I think Kyrie would have been more optimistic about what was going on with that team had Gordon been able to flourish because if you go all the way back with that team to preseason — the first preseason they were together (in 2017 before Hayward fractured his tibia on opening night ) — it was unbelievable the way they were playing. They were both so fired up about it.”
The Celtics provided Hayward with every opportunity to get back into the swing of things, possibly to a fault. Some players reportedly were irked by Brad Stevens steadfastly turning to Hayward despite the 29-year-old’s continued struggle to find any sort of rhythm. Boston’s shortcomings, however, obviously can’t all be placed on Hayward’s shoulders.
The reality of the situation is the ’18-19 C’s probably were never going to work, even if Hayward performed like a max-contract player. The talent was there in spades, but the collective simply wasn’t able to mesh.
Thumbnail photo via Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports Images