Hayward builds off-court friendship with unlikely teammate; drains threes in rehab

It’s hard not to think of Gordon Hayward as a forgotten man of sorts this year. Having only played roughly five minutes before suffering what is still the most terrifying injury of the 2017-18’ NBA season, it’s been tough to remind ourselves of the Boston Celtics’ biggest prize of free-agency this past summer.

In rather bittersweet fashion, Hayward’s absence has propelled younger Celtics, like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, into larger roles. Further along their development than originally scheduled, this probably has offered president Danny Ainge a clearer outlook for which direction the team can take in the future.

With the emergence of other young studs like Terry Rozier as well, fans in Boston are also getting more and more of an idea of what this team will eventually look like with it's missing star back. But for any team who turns to inexperienced players to step up in the absence of veterans, there’s going to be rough patches.

Amidst their first three-game losing streak of the year, Brad Stevens’ team might be in their toughest stretch of the season. As much as we're sure the coach would love to have his former Butler University pupil back now more than ever, such is life for any coach who’s missing one of his best players. Adjustments need to be made when problems like such arise and for the most part the Celtics have answered that bell in spades.

Still sitting atop the Eastern Conference despite their recent skid, overall this year has turned into an absolute success, Hayward's injury or not. But beyond making sure the rest of the team remains focused, the other part of any injury of that significance is ensuring Hayward follows the right path to recovery and avoids any additional, potential issues.

Celtic fans can take a huge sigh of relief as, to this point (let's cross our fingers), almost everything in regard to #20's rehab back to the hardwood has gone perfect.

Having already had his walking boot for his ankle removed a few weeks ago for an injury that had barely happened two and a half months before, Hayward might as well be the poster-boy for injury rehabilitation right now. As we originally saw the boot-less Hayward with the aforementioned Ainge a few weeks back as the C's hosted Australian Olympic-swimmer, Stephen Mount, for a visit at their practice facility, the first-year Celtic continues to show great signs of improvement.

As seen in the video shared by fellow CelticsLife contributor and writer, Tomek Kordylewski, above, #20 has made his first return to the hardwood (literally) that we know of since having the boot taken off. Nailing three after three, it's clear the ankle injury has had no effect on the Hayward's ability to shoot.

Although there is still a long way to go for the former Utah Jazz swingman, his rehab has only been made easier by the great support system around him, including even new teammates.

Having had plenty of time on his hands to get closer to the guys in the locker-room at the practice facility or around TD Garden, one can imagine how difficult it still has to be not being able to develop that camaraderie ON-court. However if Hayward hasn't assimilated himself enough to his new squad yet, it won't be for lack of trying.

Over the past few months, as detailed in a piece by the Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach, along with endearing himself to many around the organization, Gordon Hayward has formed a bond with Celtic teammate, Daniel Theis.

The two teammates friendship began taking form when Hayward saw his absence from the court as an opportunity to focus on supporting the C's rookie from Germany. Noting Theis' fluctuating time early in the season and adjusting to a much lesser role than he had playing in his home country, #20's admiration for Theis only grew.

"He's basically taking a pay cut to not be the best player on his team in Germany, and come over here and sit on the bench. So I've just like said to him, 'Dude you're playing extremely well when you get in. Make sure you're always ready. Be patient. Everybody goes through this'.", said Hayward describing his advice and thoughts to the first-year Celtic.

Beyond just seeing veterans players who are in their first year here already taking younger ones under their wing, seeing this type of relationship form between teammates who's squad was pretty much made from scratch last summer is another encouraging sign. While it's important to have all the moving parts set in place going forward, maintaining a positive environment might be equally as important as we can see with some teams (hey, Cleveland Cavaliers), this can lead to pretty big issues.

Going forward, it will be nice to see more of these reported friendships pop up across the team. With so many new faces this year, Hayward's injury may have forced a lot of these guys to gel quicker too because they we're almost put up against a wall in a sense and left with no other choice. By the time he makes his return at full-strength, the team may just seem like they've been playing together for years by then.

Follow Brendan on Twitter for more Celtics/NBA/sports info at @brendan_ronan_

Photo via Kent Smith, Getty Images
Photo via NBC Sports Boston
Photo via Matthew J. Lee, The Boston Globe
Photo via John Wilcox, The Boston Herald