BOSTON — Gordon Hayward is living his best basketball life right now for the Boston Celtics, having strung together three consecutive games of 20 or more points — a first since joining the team in 2017.
It’s not a coincidence that Hayward playing like “All-Star” Hayward in the last three games has coincided with Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown — or against Orlando on Jan. 24, both players — being out of the lineup.
Indeed, Hayward’s play of late has only reinforced the addition-by-subtraction narrative when it comes to his play here in Boston with the Celtics' two on-the-rise wings in Tatum and Brown.
In the 11 games Hayward has played with Tatum, Brown or both out of the lineup, Hayward has averaged 21.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 42.0 percent from behind the arc with Boston posting a 7-4 record.
Those numbers — and the winning percentage over the course of a season — would easily put Hayward in the conversation not only as an All-Star but a potential starter.
And while the Celtics have consistently said they have no desire to trade the 6-foot-8 Hayward prior to the Feb. 6 trade deadline, his play of late will likely bring about more suitors in the coming days who are at a minimum curious as to what his value is to the Celtics.
“Teams will do their due diligence when it comes to Gordon, but watching him lately, he’s looked really good,” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “But I still don’t think at the end of the day, they’ll move him.”
The executive would later go on to point out how Hayward’s contract — more than health concerns — is what’s likely to keep teams from making a strong, aggressive push to acquire him.
“When he’s right, and he’s looking right now, everyone loves him and would love to have him,” the league executive said. “But can Boston find a team that has what they want, and are willing to give it to them for Gordon, who might be gone next summer? I don’t think so.”
Hayward has one year remaining after this current season on the four-year, $127.8 million contract he signed with Boston in 2017. However, Hhs contract includes a player option which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
You have to wonder if, privately, the Celtics are concerned that Hayward may take a similar exit strategy that ex-Celtic Al Horford did last summer when he opted out of the final year of his deal in Boston and signed with the rival Philadelphia 76ers.
Hayward has consistently maintained that his focus remains on the present, which is to do all he can to help the Celtics win and go as deep as possible into the playoffs.
To do so requires sacrifice, something Hayward has shown a willingness to do all season.
But there’s a balance that still needs to be struck between “All-Star” Hayward and the player he becomes when Tatum and Brown are healthy and flourishing.
Because unless Hayward and the Celtics figure out where that point lies, their efforts to navigate this season into a huge success will remain off course and end with yet another “If only ... ” ending that this franchise has dealt with more often than not in recent years.