BOSTON -- These are tough, heart-tugging times for the Boston Celtics, who are less than 24 hours removed from the gruesome left-ankle injury suffered by Gordon Hayward in the first quarter of their 102-99 loss at Cleveland on Tuesday.
Hayward is scheduled to have surgery today, and potentially could be out for the entire season.
As much as their hearts go out to Hayward and his family, the Celtics know they can’t spend too much time sulking. The nature of this business won’t allow them, evident by the fact the C's step back on the floor tonight to host the Milwaukee Bucks.
“You hurt for him,” said coach Brad Stevens. “He’s put in a lot of great work. I thought he had his most comfortable week as far as feeling like he was going to play really well. It’s a tough, tough deal but I guess that’s part of it, the risk of injury. I really feel for him.”
But in the same breath, Stevens is a realist.
He's been in the league long enough to know that grieving for a lost player won’t help that player in the short-term. Or the team, for that matter.
MORE ON GORDON HAYWARD
The best way the Celtics can help Hayward is to continue to compete in his absence.
We saw that in last night’s loss to the Cavaliers.
When Hayward was carted off the floor, the Celtics were ahead, 12-9. The lead disappeared and was eventually replaced by an 18-point deficit, only for Boston to chip away and eventually go ahead in the fourth quarter.
But down the stretch, too much LeBron James and Kevin Love would prove to be too much for the Celtics to overcome.
While the loss was disappointing, it gave the team some insight into how to fight on now that one of its main guys will be out for a significant amount of time.
We saw Jaylen Brown emerge from being a second-year pro on the rise into a matchup problem who dropped a career-high 25 points on the Cavs.
And Jayson Tatum reminded us all that he’s a teenager in age only, finishing with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. The last rookie to tally a double-double for the Celtics in his opening night debut was Larry Bird in 1979, who had an identical 14-point, 10-rebound line.
But Bird didn’t have to play most of that game with one of the then top-three Celtics out for all but the game’s first five minutes.
When it comes to adversity, NBA players don’t have the luxury to pick which ones to handle and which ones to pass on. They either step up to the challenge or be consumed by it.
Under Stevens, Door Number One is the only option under consideration.
And since Stevens has been in Boston, his players have risen to the challenge.
That doesn’t mean they'll win every game, but they've shown the ability to at least be competitive. And in defeat, they'll refuse to use injury as an excuse.
That means younger players like Brown and Tatum will assume a larger role at both ends of the floor if Boston is to make it through these tough times relatively unscathed.
Veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Smart will be leaned upon more heavily to be leaders, both on and off the floor.
And Stevens, considered by many to be one of the better coaches in the NBA, will once again be tasked with making on-the-fly adjustments with his lineup and rotations under less-than-ideal conditions.
Nobody hurts more than Stevens when it comes to Hayward’s injury. Remember, he's known him longer than anyone associated with the Celtics, having recruited Hayward to play for Butler. It was the platform that launched both of their NBA careers.
Which is why the way he approaches not having Hayward is the example for all his players to follow.
Shortly after the loss to the Cavs, Stevens was asked about moving on while handling the emotional dynamics of losing Hayward for an extended period of time.
“We’ll be ready to play [tonight],” Stevens said with a heightened level of seriousness in his voice that spoke to how important it was to him and his players that they came out and performed at their best on Tuesday against Cleveland.
And that's the blueprint required for them going forward if they hope to be successful in handling adversity as it comes their way.
BOSTON -- The Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio is nearing an end with reports that the estranged San Antonio star will be traded to the Toronto Raptors for a package centered around the Raptors’ all-time leading scorer, DeMar DeRozan.
As good as DeRozan has been for the Raptors, acquiring a healthy Kawhi Leonard makes them a better team on several levels.
But that improvement isn’t enough of a power shift to move Boston off the top of the Eastern Conference food chain.
MORE A. SHERROD BLAKELY
Leonard is the best two-way player in the NBA right now, a perennial All-Star when healthy. But his health is one of the many questions out there. He missed all but nine games last season, primarily because of a quad injury.
He's a significant upgrade defensively for the Raptors, which would more than compensate for whatever they lose in terms of offensive punch with DeRozan’s departure.
Toronto's addition of Leonard still doesn’t change the fact that Boston has the deepest roster in the East, headlined by a triumvirate of All-Stars (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford) with an emerging cast of superstars led by Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, who finished third in last season’s Rookie of the Year voting.
Throw in a solid bench with strong coaching and a connected front office, and it adds up to a team that has every reason in the world to believe it’ll be the last one standing in the East, regardless of what moves are made by others.
More than anything, Toronto getting Leonard makes the East far more interesting in addition to providing the Celtics with yet another legitimate challenger in the conference.
Philadelphia, by all accounts, looks to be the next best team in the East this season, with Indiana, Milwaukee and the Raptors not too far behind.
Adding Leonard to the mix gives Toronto hope of separating itself from that crowded middle class. But it still leaves the Raptors short of being on the same level as Boston.
For starters, Toronto is adding a player who -- for now, at least -- doesn’t want to be there.
The only assurance they will have is that he’ll be on the roster for this upcoming season. He hits free agency in the summer of 2019 and has reportedly been leaning heavily towards returning to his California roots and playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, who signed LeBron James earlier this month.
One of Toronto’s strengths has been the chemistry between DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. There's no guarantee that can replicated by swapping out DeRozan for Leonard.
Also, Toronto has a new coach in longtime assistant Nick Nurse. His strength in the league has been that of a good development coach, which is more in line with a team that's rebuilding rather than one trying to re-tool for another run towards Eastern Conference supremacy.
Regardless of this trade, the Raptors were going to head into this season with lots of questions after getting swept by Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs and then firing Dwayne Casey (who was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year shortly after his dismissal).
There’s no denying Leonard’s talent makes a deal like this palatable to many, but the Raptors did more than just trade away a talented player.
DeRozan was arguably their first star, and at no point in his career did he even hint that he wanted out of Toronto. It was, in fact, just the opposite: DeRozan made it clear, both publicly and privately, that he wanted to spend his entire career with the Raptors.
But that’s not going to happen now.
If Leonard stays healthy and plays at the level we've grown accustomed to seeing him at in the past, the trade makes Toronto a better team on many levels. It certainly closes the gap some between the Raptors and the Celtics.
But Boston is still the team to beat in the East, a position that no one trade -- not even one that lands Kawhi Leonard -- is going to change.
Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio and apparently he's getting his wish.
However, he's not too excited about where he's going.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Haynes reported early Wednesday morning that the Spurs "are finalizing a deal [to send Leonard to the Toronto Raptors] in a trade package that includes All-Star DeMar DeRozan." And, according to the report: "Leonard and DeRozan are both aware that an agreement could be imminent, and neither is expressing enthusiasm for the deal, league sources said."
Leonard's well-documented frayed relations with the Spurs led to San Antonio pursuing potential deals for the perennial All-Star, but his desire to sign with the Lakers (or, failing that, the Clippers) as a free agent next offseason depressed the trade market. The Celtics were interested in Leonard -- and, in fact, made an offer to San Antonio at last year's trade deadline -- but, knowing there was more than a good chance he'd be a one-year rental, were reportedly unwilling to part with with any of their key players. Nor were the Sixers, another rumored landing spot for Leonard. According to sources, both Boston and Philly made offers that were built around draft picks and not current talent, which didn't interest the Spurs.
With this rumored deal, San Antonio gets an All-Star who'd be under team control for a while: He has three years and $83 million left on his contract, including an Early Termination Option for the 2020-21 season. And Toronto, which finished with the best record in the East last year but was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, now muscles its way back into contention for the Eastern Conference title, which was assumed to have become a two-team battle between the Celtics and 76ers.
At least for a year, anyway.