LAS VEGAS – When you listen to players and coaches whose careers have included a pitstop in Boston, they will collectively tell you the city loves its star athletes.
And with that love comes expectations of greatness, the kind of greatness that only a select few ever achieve in this town.
It takes a special kind of talent to weather the sometimes-tumultuous, stormy relationship between fans that comes with being a superstar athlete in Boston, something the newest soon-to-be Celtic Gordon Hayward will learn first-hand.
Hayward, who agreed to a four-year, $127.8 million contract with the Celtics on the Fourth of July, has never been in a sports vacuum quite like the one he’s walking into.
An NBA all-star, Hayward was not a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school in Indiana before ultimately signing with nearby Butler University coached by now-Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.
And when the Utah Jazz drafted him with the ninth overall pick in 2010, he evolved into a star for one of the league’s smaller market franchises.
Ain’t nothing small about Boston other than its patience level when it comes to its stars.
Some players can handle that pressure with ease, like David Ortiz or Tom Brady.
Others like David Price … not so much.
So I asked a couple of NBA coaches (Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau) who have spent years coaching against Hayward who also have an intimate knowledge of the Boston sports scene, just how they saw Hayward adjusting to his new surroundings and with it, the increased amount of pressure to perform at the highest of levels.
“He’ll handle that well,” said Rivers, president of basketball operations and head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers who spent nine seasons (2004-2013) as the Celtics’ head coach. “I think he’s really humble. His relationship with Brad (Stevens) will help as well, to channel that. You still have Isaiah (Thomas) there to take some of that pressure away. They’re going to be really good.”
Fandom aside, Hayward will ultimately be judged on his play which was on an all-star level this past season when he averaged 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds, both career highs.
And for those who have had to coach against him, seeing him head East is a welcomed reprieve.
“He scores so many different ways,” said Thibodeau, president of basketball operations and head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. “You have to prepare for every situation.”
And even that’s not enough as Thibodeau’s Timberwolves lost three of four meetings against Hayward and the Jazz last season which included the 27-year-old dropping 39 points on Minnesota in late-April shortly before the playoffs.
“He’s a great catch-and-shoot guy, moves well without the ball, very good off the dribble, very good in pick-and-rolls … he puts enormous pressure on the defense at all times,” said Thibodeau, a former Celtics assistant coach (2007-2010) who grew up in New England and attended Salem State just outside of Boston. “His versatility, that’s probably the biggest thing. And he’s unselfish.”
Thibodeau believes the qualities that he brings to the floor as a player will mesh well with the Celtics and the fan base which Thibodeau knows all too well, can be a tough crowd to please.
“I think the way they (Celtics) play, who he is … I thought it was a great acquisition,” Thibodeau said. “He’ll fit in seamlessly.”