In five-hours the Celtics fan base went through the gantlet of emotions starting when the news hit Gordon Hayward was signing with the Charlotte Hornets of all teams, leading to mass hysteria from both the fans losing and receiving him.
I wanted Hayward to return, believing his reputation as injury prone similar to how Danilo Gallinari turned his career around. In the three campaigns Hayward undertook since signing with Boston he’s disappointed in so many ways. In his debut he suffered an injury we’re all well aware of. The following year he was a shell of his former self trapped on a team prone to shooting themselves in the foot. His third and final season began promising enough, until an unfortunate LaMarcus Aldridge screen broke his hand and sidelined him again. Hayward would never regain his stride until August inside the famed bubble in Orlando. Hayward was happy, healthy, and playing at his highest level since his Utah days.
Then he got hurt – again.
Bless his heart, he tried to make a comeback for the Heat series (missing the birth of his son in the process) but it wasn’t enough as he was a noticeable step behind the competition. The silver lining leaving the 4-2 series defeat was Hayward helped swing the two Celtics wins and if he was available to play sooner, or never got hurt to begin with, the Celtics probably would have won.
“What-ifs” dominate Hayward’s tenure in Boston and will be his legacy. If the Celtics are unable to win a championship in the era of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown we can point to him as the main reason. It does not help matters Hayward skipped town for nothing. In his defense, the player owes the franchise nothing. His case is special because as a player seemingly on the ascent at the time of his signing, and no history of injuries predating October, 2017, Hayward fell victim to the most unlikeliest scenarios on every occasion bucking historical trends. He really took the “I owe the team” nothing moniker to the breaking point.
Hayward never played one relevant game. Was never healthy for more than a month and the allure of him was always in the hypothetical. How we treat Romeo Langford is how we viewed Hayward since his injury.
If everything went to plan and Hayward would have become an All-NBAer and lead the Celtics to the finals multiple times and at least one championship. Forget the dysfunction with Kyrie Irving. They would have overcome all of that because of him. The Jays would basically be rich men versions of Pascal Siakam. Guys being prepped to lead the next generation, used as aces up the sleeve for a team that doesn’t need a bunch of guys still on their rookie contracts to carry the load.
Instead, what we got was the comically bad outcome.
To Danny Ainge’s credit, he didn’t cry in a public restroom at the news of Hayward’s departure (like I did). News hit soon after of Klutch client Tristan Thompson signing in Boston for the full $9,300,000 mid-level exception for two-seasons; followed-up with Jeff Teague signing for one year, presumably at the minimum rounding out the Celtics inexperience and worrisome bench unit.
Not for a lack of trying, Brad Wanamaker could not instill confidence in fans when it was his turn to drive the car when Kemba Walker needed to take a powder. While Teague’s best days are behind him he is a very underrated passer and since this offense runs primarily through the Jays it’ll play perfectly to his strengths.
As for Thompson, he’s fantastic insurance for Daniel Theis when he inevitably gets into foul trouble. Game one vs Miami is burned in my mind. Once Theis fouled out the game was over for us. Nobody could handle Bam on that roster besides him. Having Thompson is a massive boost.
So the Celtics go from handwringing about being capped out, having to pay three forwards (Tatum, Hayward, Brown), an undersized guard people obsess about being an albatross despite the evidence he is anything but (Walker), and another guard due for a bigger pay day down the road (Marcus Smart), and an underwhelming bench unit, the Celtics are more well rounded.
If rookie Aaron Nesmith and sophomore Romeo Langford can be serviceable and not liabilities then Celtics are beyond golden and should be viewed at as favorites to come out of the conference. Especially with the question marks surrounding the health of Kevin Durant of Brooklyn, Goran Dragic of Miami, and the overall situation regarding Giannis’ free agency in Milwaukee.
The Celtics are the only team in the East with their house in order. Toronto potentially won’t be the same after Serge Ibaka didn’t re-sign; Aron Baynes never was the most durable player.
For now the Hayward saga is over. His shadow will loom for maybe a generation here in Boston and his effect on NBA history cannot be understated.