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One second Gordon Hayward was soaring towards the hoop to catch a lob pass, and the next he was on the floor looking at his grossly-distorted ankle. He had left Utah to join his former Butler coach, Brad Stevens, and a Celtics team on a rapid rise in the NBA. Now he knew his season was in jeopardy, and possibly his pro basketball career. He was a do-everything player and now he was not even able to move on his own power. He was supposed to be a vital cog in the newly-improved Celtics machine. The mental anguish started immediately. Here is SI's Lee Jenkins on the impact:

After the pain came the doubt, that nocturnal beast, always awakening as Gordon Hayward searched for sleep. He would lie in bed next to his wife, Robyn, head swirling with questions he couldn’t swat away: Will I be able to play again? Will I be able to jump again? What am I supposed to do now?

At 26–7, Boston has the best record in the Eastern Conference. Point guard Kyrie Irving is a top–five MVP candidate. Power forward Al Horford could be the Defensive Player of the Year. Rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year wing Jaylen Brown are revelations. But when president of basketball operations Danny Ainge watches the juggernaut he assembled, he can’t help but scan the arena for the missing piece. “What do we need?” Ainge wonders, the question that haunts general managers everywhere. “A versatile 6'8" defender who can switch one through four, handle the ball, create offense for others and make shots. That’s what we need. That’s Gordon Hayward.”


Suddenly, the vital cog had become an observer, not the usual role for such an accomplished athlete. Winning or losing, he often could not watch Celtics games knowing that he could be helping in many ways. Here is SI's Lee Jenkins:

Early on, Hayward would hobble down to his basement theater at tip-off, fidgeting with the ball Stevens brought him in the hospital. “I could usually make it to halftime,” he says, “and then it would be like, All right, I’m done, I have to turn this off.” If the Celtics were winning, he felt sorry for himself, because he was missing out. If they were losing, he felt sorry for everybody else, because he couldn’t help. He tried going to a home game against the Warriors. “That was the worst,” Hayward says. “I was so close.” He retreated from the bench to the locker room for the second half as Boston toppled Golden State, a source of immense pride and unspeakable agony.

So if Hayward was forced to sit around, he was going to be mentally active and become a scout/assistant coach on the sideline. The analytical NBA star was going to assess opponents, matchups and various. hopefully-effective Celtics lineups. Here is SI's Lee Jenkins one more time:

"He’s always been analytical,” Stevens laughs. “I would say overly analytical.” Hayward could not watch the Celtics as a cheerleader. He had to watch them as a scout. How are guys being guarded? What’s open? What’s not? What’s working? What’s not? Assistant Scott Morrison asked him about defending Kevin Durant. “Haha,” Hayward replied. “Good luck.” Stevens, alternating between big and small lineups depending on opponents, requested his input against Western foes.

Gordon Hayward brings everything and takes away nothing. He can defend one-through-four, shoot from distance, drive to the hoop and finish and handle the ball or distribute it with equal dexterity. He has high-level and diverse talents that the Celtics need for long-term success. Improving physically will lead to brighter mental outlooks for Gordon as he works hard every day to return to his team, not as observer/scout but as a true star player. He will be combining his analytical mind and athletic skills to help bring the Celtics to the Finals and beyond. In Part 3 I will be looking at Gordon-the-analyst's thoughts on his teammates.

Follow Tom at @TomLaneHC

Top photo via Winslow Townson/AP

Tom Lane 12/22/2017 07:11:00 AM Edit
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