Ainge: "Gordon Hayward wants to return faster than anyone has from this injury"

Ainge: "Gordon Hayward wants to return faster than anyone has from this injury"

BOSTON – A picture of Gordon Hayward without a boot on his left leg, posted by his wife Robyn, sent Celtics Nation into a brief tizzy that maybe, just maybe, the season-ending ankle injury he suffered five minutes into the opener may not be season-ending after all.

Danny Ainge -- while stressing the recuperation timetable hasn't changed -- says Hayward "deep inside . . . wants to come faster than anybody has from this kind of injury."

"He's got a competitive streak to him and he's asking lots of questions," Ainge said Thursday morning on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher & Rich. "He's diligent in his rebab. I know what's going on his mind, but I don't think he'll say anything about how fast he wants to get back."

Officially, however, he's still on pace for a 2018-19 comeback.

“He can take the boot off for short periods of time,” Ainge said. “But yeah, he’s doing really well. His therapy is going great. He’s right on schedule. He’s sometimes doing two workouts a day, trying to get stronger. The next phase is getting out of the boot completely, but I still think that’s a couple weeks away, from being permanently out of the boot.”

Coach Brad Stevens echoed similar sentiments, adding that Hayward still wears the boot most of the day.

“He wears the boot until a certain time every evening and then he can take it off,” Stevens said. “When he moves around, he can move around with a brace that’s like a boot.”

Hayward suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in the season opener at Cleveland. The injury led to the Celtics being granted an $8.4 million disabled player exception, which is the largest DPE granted to an NBA team.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Clock ticking on Celtics' Disabled Player Exception

Clock ticking on Celtics' Disabled Player Exception

BOSTON – When you are rolling along the way the Celtics are, it’s hard to imagine a ton of thought is being put into shaking up the roster.
 
But when it comes to change, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has proven himself to be open to it regardless of how the team is performing at that time.

MORE CELTICS:

Which is why the Celtics are very much open to using the Disabled Player Exception (DPE) they were granted by the NBA for Gordon Hayward’s left ankle injury – possibly this week.
 
Because if the Celtics want to utilize the $8.4 million exception to acquire a player and use him in a subsequent deal, they have to do it by Friday.
 
Utilizing the exception, the largest ever granted to an NBA team, would not be a major issue for the Celtics, who have an open roster spot available to sign or trade for a player without having to do any roster shuffling.
 
Boston has 16 players under contract, but only 14 have fully guaranteed contracts.  The league maximum for guaranteed contracts is 15. Boston signed rookies Kadeem Allen and Jabari Bird to two-way contracts, which do not count against a team’s guaranteed contract total.
 
If the Friday deadline comes and goes without Boston using its DPE, two other dates to keep in mind are Feb. 8 (trade deadline) and March 10 (DPE expiration date).
 
Multiple league sources tell NBC Sports Boston that the Celtics are more likely to use the DPE, if at all, closer to the trade deadline.
 
Because right now, the Celtics (21-4) have the best record in the NBA and don’t have any specifically glaring hole in their lineup.  And of the players that are knowingly available via trade, they are not viewed as players who could come and significantly bolster the Celtics’ roster. Plus, there’s a growing sense in NBA circles that the buyout market for players will be more fruitful in the coming weeks.
 
Kenneth Faried (Denver), Jahlil Okafor (Philadelphia) and Greg Monroe (Phoenix) are all players who may be in line for a buyout in the coming weeks if their respective teams can’t swing a deal for them, which would make them potential targets of the Celtics.
 
And historically, teams with a DPE typically let it expire because acquiring players who are the right fit and available, has proven a difficult match to make.

There have been 39 DPEs granted since 1995, but only 10 times have they been used.

If there is an area of concern for the Celtics, it would be the team’s lack of experience. So, if they were to use the DPE, it would in all likelihood be to add an experienced veteran who can handle being called upon to play big minutes one night and to not play at all another.  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

No Embiid, but plenty of others to keep an eye on

celtics-sixers-storylines-embiid-113017.jpg

No Embiid, but plenty of others to keep an eye on

BOSTON – The Celtics caught a bit of a break tonight with the Philadelphia 76ers keeping Joel Embiid out for the game.
 
Considering his impact and the fact that he’s not nursing any specific injury, it might seem strange that he sits out a game of this magnitude.
 
But when it comes to Embiid and the Sixers, there has been very little that has gone according to plan.

Officially this is his second NBA season, but he has been on an NBA payroll for three-plus seasons. His first two seasons were spent on the sidelines nursing injuries. Last season was his first extensive action, but that season was shortened due to injuries after having played 31 games.
 
To the casual observer, it might seem odd to have such an integral part of a team’s success not play against the team with the best record in the NBA.
 
“It is unusual but it’s an unusual circumstance,” Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations, said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show. “He played 31 games in three years. They know his body; they have good medical staff. They’re just being cautious with him. It sounds like it’s probably the right thing to do.

Ainge added, “Joel is a terrific player. He’s had a fantastic season. They’re doing all they can to be a playoff team. I think they’re probably doing the right thing for him.”
 
Without Embiid, the Sixers will turn to multiple bodies to help fill the void left by the 7-footer who is averaging a double-double of 22.9 points and 11.3 rebounds along with 3.3 assists and 1.8 blocks.
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game:


 
POINT GUARD MATCHUP
Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Philly’s Ben Simmons are two of the more effective point guards in the league today, getting the job done in their own way. Irving is an elite scorer who relies on his quickness, ability to change direction at the drop of a dime courtesy of well-above-average ball-handling skills. Simmons has tremendous size (6-foot-10), strength and straight-line ball-handling to get to the rim along with exceptional court vision that collectively makes him a handful to defend. Whoever outshines the other will be key to their respective team’s chances at victory tonight.
 

AL HORFORD
If you spend enough time around Horford, you will soon learn that he’s not the braggadocious person. But when asked recently about whether he’s playing as well as he’s ever played, Horford responded, “I feel that I am. I feel that I’m playing at a really high level. I always look at ways to get better. Even now there are still some things that I’ll keep working through and hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be in an even better position. I’m very confident in the way that I’m moving, the way that I’m playing.”

ON THE LINE
If the Sixers get on a bit of a roll tonight, don’t be surprised if Brad Stevens goes to the Hack-a-Ben (Simmons) strategy which we saw in Philly’s 118-113 win over Washington on Wednesday. Simmons, who ended the Wizards game with a double-double of 31 points and 18 rebounds which were both career highs, shot an NBA-record 24 free throws in the fourth quarter. While it’s highly unlikely Stevens and the Celtics will foul him that much, rest assured he’ll likely be sent to the line intentionally at some point near the end of the game or a quarter.
 

MORRIS REUNION WEEK
Indeed, it has been one familiar face after another all week for Marcus Morris. The Detroit Pistons, the team that traded Morris to Boston, was in town on Monday. Tonight Morris will face his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers. And on Saturday, the Phoenix Suns will be in town. Morris spent two-plus seasons with the Suns. He has shown nothing but love for the Pistons after they traded him and said he likes the direction his hometown team is going. But Phoenix? “Well, it’s a little different from Detroit than Phoenix. I got a lot of love for Detroit, never rubbed me wrong, did me wrong.”
 


BACKUP POWER
Bench scoring has not been a strength of either team. According to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics’ second unit is averaging 30.5 points per game which ranks 22nd in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Sixer’s backups have struggled even more, averaging 27.1 points per game which ranks 27th in the league.