BOSTON — Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge sounds bullish about Gordon Hayward’s chances of bouncing back to All-Star form during the 2019-20 season.
Ainge expressed optimism about Hayward, who struggled this year to find consistency while working his way back from what was ultimately two surgeries following the gruesome ankle injury that all but erased his 2017-18 season. After a strong finish to the 2018-19 campaign and encouraging stretches in Boston’s opening-round sweep of the Pacers, Hayward struggled to impact the series against the Bucks.
“I’m really excited for Gordon’s upcoming season,” said Ainge. "He’s working hard right now in the gym. He’s here every day with five or six coaches and bodies out there working extremely hard. He’s put a lot of time in. I’m anticipating great things from Gordon this next year.
"I don’t really look at it as fading in the Milwaukee series. I look at it as sometimes it’s just opportunity. There’s only one ball out there. And I’m not worried about Gordon Hayward. I’m not worried about his future or how good a player he is. He’s doing everything he can. If he doesn’t become the player that he wants to be then it won’t be from a lack of trying. But I’m very excited and optimistic about his future.”
Ainge held a wide-ranging 21-minute press conference on Wednesday at the Auerbach Center, the first time he’s met with reporters since suffering a heart attack during Boston’s playoff run, and while Kyrie Irving’s future was the focal point of a conversation centered around Boston’s cloudy summer plans, Ainge offered thoughts on Hayward and a some of Boston’s other players and coaches.
Ainge saved some of his biggest praise for coach Brad Stevens, who had taken much of the blame for Boston’s roller coaster play this past season.
"Brad and I talk every day. Things are going great. There's no other coach I'd rather have than Brad. He's the best,” said Ainge.
Later Ainge added: "It was a very difficult job. I knew it'd be difficult from the beginning of the year and we talked about that but I think it was even more difficult than I anticipated and he anticipated. Again, I think he's going to be a lot better because of the year he went through. He's the least of our worries.
"We know that he's going to work to become the best that he can be and that he's going to learn from it. I wish every one of our players would put the time, effort and energy into what Brad does, but there's no other coach I'd rather have than Brad Stevens.”
Some other topics Ainge touched on:
* Asked about the possibility that Al Horford could opt out of the final year of his deal (and $30.1 million) and negotiate a potential extension to stay in Boston, Ainge said, "That will be discussed. That’s one of the priorities on our list as well.”
* Questioned about the young core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier, Ainge said simply, “I think that they all had great moments in the season and I think there’s a lot they still need to get better at.”
* Pressed on Rozier and his outspoken nature following the season, Ainge said: "You guys know I’m a big fan of Terry’s. I don’t always agree with how everybody handles the media, just like they probably don’t agree with how I handle the media and things that I say. We don’t always think alike, that’s what makes the game fun. But I’m a big fan of Terry’s, I think that, if Terry was in the right circumstance and the right role, I think he would love playing in Boston, is my opinion. And, if not, then I think Terry would let me know that. But Terry and I have a very good relationship, as Terry does with Brad as well.”
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