Hayward starts season on minutes restriction, eager to prove he’s the same player

Hayward starts season on minutes restriction, eager to prove he’s the same player

BOSTON — Celtics forward Gordon Hayward will be limited to 25 minutes of floor time when he returns to a regular-season game for the first time in nearly a year Tuesday in the season-opener against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said that, while Hayward had his best week of practice in the long crawl to opening night, the team will keep him on a minutes restriction for the first couple weeks of the season.

Hayward, who missed all of last season after fracturing his ankle on opening night in Cleveland, played in three exhibition games but sat out the exhibition finale while dealing with a back issue. Hayward admitted he’ll have some natural butterflies for opening night, which will be his first regular-season game in a Celtics uniform at TD Garden — but he’s eager to dive back in.

"Definitely a little anxious, just a little bit nervous. I think that’s natural though,” said Hayward. "Once you get out there and get your blood flowing and get up and down the court a couple times, that’ll go away. Just looking forward to being out there, that’s a big step for me. Like I said in the preseason, too, being out there on the floor after what happened is a big step.”

Hayward is expected to start and, with a fully healthy roster, the Celtics will have plenty of options to fill up minutes while Hayward ramps up his activity early in the year.

While hesitant at times in the preseason, teammates and coaches have raved about the progress that Hayward displayed over the past week, a stretch in which the Celtics purposely went heavy on scrimmage work to get Hayward live reps.

"I thought last week was his best week, as you would expect,” said Stevens. "Obviously his back feels better and a little more comfortable as you move on, so he’ll be a little bit restricted from a minutes standpoint as we progress through this early part of the season, but that’s just to make sure we ramp it back up so that he’s feeling great toward the end of the year and the years beyond.  It’s hard to go from not playing [for 12 months] to playing the schedule that we’re playing.”

Teammate Marcus Smart raved about how Smart looked in recent sessions.

“He started hitting all his shots,” said Smart. "In preseason it just seemed like he couldn’t buy a shot. Everything was on line, it was a little bit short. Got into practice and we starting running five-on-five, and getting to the rim, getting to where he’s supposed to. Those shots that were short are now going in. He’s looking like his old self.”

Added Smart: "He was a little rusty coming in [to camp], and he’s out here dunking the ball off the ankle and everything. It’s good to see that."

Hayward admitted he had a good week and playfully chided reporters about the constant health questions. He’s ready for that storyline to die down as he launches back into action.

"My ankle feels strong,” said Hayward. "I still can tell that it’s the ankle that got hurt, I don’t think that’s going to go away for a little while but continually doing rehab on it, as well as the rest of my body. And some of that, too, is just getting older, you gotta do more and more stuff.”

Hayward said he feels like he’s in good basketball shape [“I feel good as far as cardio and conditioning is concerned”] but admitted he cannot fully simulate what it will be like to be out there playing again.

Especially with the emotions of having missed a full year while rehabbing from the ankle injury on opening night in Cleveland last season.

But he plans to fully utilize all 25 minutes of floor time.

"I’m going to go in and play as hard as I can when I’m out there on the floor,” said Hayward. "That’s something that, as a player, you can’t stand -- minutes and limiting the amount of minutes. I think if you would ask all the players, they’d want to be out there the whole game. I understand, as far as what happened, and then trying to make sure that I’m kinda going at an upward path. First game of the year, it’s the goal, and so I have to accept that. When I’m out there, I’m going to be playing hard, hard as I can.”

Hayward’s biggest motivation: Prove that he didn’t lose anything from being out a year.

"Just internally, proving to myself that I can be the same player that I was,” said Hayward. "I want to get back out there on the court and show everybody what I can do."



Evan Turner played a key role in selling Enes Kanter on Celtics

Evan Turner played a key role in selling Enes Kanter on Celtics

Danny Ainge himself admitted Enes Kanter probably could have made more money elsewhere.

So, why did the veteran big man choose the Boston Celtics in free agency? You can thank Evan Turner in part.

As Kanter considered the C's as a free-agent destination, Ainge suggested he reach out to Turner, his teammate on the Portland Trail Blazers for part of the 2019 season and former Celtic who spent two seasons in Boston from 2014 to 2016.

Turns out that was a good suggestion, as Turner gave Kanter a five-star review of the C's.

"He told me how amazing and friendly the front office was," Kanter said Wednesday at his introductory press conference at the Auerbach Center. "He told me it’s like a family. From the moment that you step on that court, they’re going to love you, treat you like family."

Turner also sold Kanter on the basketball side of Boston, and with good reason: The veteran wing parlayed two solid seasons under Celtics head coach Brad Stevens into a four-year, $70 million contract with the Blazers.

"(Turner) told me how much he trusts in Brad," Kanter said. "All he kept saying is how much he trusts in him.

" ... He told me amazing things about the organization, about the fan base, about the coaching staff and everything. So, it’s pretty awesome."

Combine Kanter's trust in Turner (one of his close friends in Boston) with a separate phone call from fellow recruit Kemba Walker and a good first impression from the Celtics' ownership, and the 27-year-old big man was convinced to sign in Boston -- where he fittingly took Turner's former No. 11 jersey.

"I just met all the owners today,” Kanter added. "I’ve never seen anything like this before. They actually come talk to you, and that just shows so much respect. They’re having a conversation with you. That's something that’s very special."

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Will Kemba Walker-Boston Celtics union have Happily Ever After ending?

Will Kemba Walker-Boston Celtics union have Happily Ever After ending?

BOSTON -- Kemba Walker is all smiles right now. So is Danny Ainge, and Brad Stevens, and Wyc Grousbeck and … pretty much everyone associated with the Boston Celtics right now. 

But if you hit the rewind button to a couple years ago, there was a similar vibe of optimism surrounding the program as we all sat and watched Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward trotted out before the media in what many thought would be the perfect marriage. 

No need to dwell on Hayward’s injury anymore than we have, or Irving’s decision to leave Boston for Brooklyn this summer. 

For a myriad of reasons, things didn't work out.

And while the positive, upbeat vibe we have now is very similar, there’s a strong sense that this Walker-to-Boston marriage has a better shot at a Happily Ever After ending. 

That’s because Walker, more than anything else, is wired very differently than Irving. 

While he led UConn to a national title as a senior in 2011, Walker didn’t come into the NBA with nearly as much fanfare or expectations as Irving, who was the top overall pick in the 2011 draft — eight spots ahead of Walker after having played just 11 games at Duke. 

And it is that perpetual chip on his shoulder that never goes away, constantly drives Walker to prove his naysayers wrong and for the Celtics, provides them the kind of leadership that at this point in time their talented but fragile roster desperately needs. 

I asked Walker during his introductory press conference on Wednesday to describe his brand of leadership.

While initially indicating that it all depends on the situation, Walker soon added, “I’m not a rah-rah kind of guy. If I have something to say, I’m gonna say it. I feel like if I’m doing something, if I’m working hard,I feel like that’s how guys have to be. Chemistry is important. A team has to be together. That’s one thing throughout my career, I try to do team activities, small things like that.” 

And it is the small things that Walker knows all too well add up to success, the kind of success that has eluded him for most of his NBA career. 

Of the 14 lottery picks from Walker’s 2011 draft class, he is one of nine that have been in the NBA for each of the past eight seasons. 

But only one of those nine has yet to ever make it out of the first round of the playoffs — that would be Walker. 

So for Walker, coming to Boston is about more than just playing for a team where he’ll be the face of the franchise for years to come. 

It’s about exorcising some basketball demons that have haunted him for most of his professional basketball career. 

That’s why as much as the Celtics need Walker to be that difference-making, high-impact scorer we saw named to the All-NBA Third team last season, he needs the Celtics just as much to finally get over that playoff hump that more than anything else, has kept him on the outside looking in on those conversations that center around the best guards in the NBA. 

Because talent-wise, Walker is right up there with the best of them. 

But the wins haven’t been there, something he seems poised to change now that he’s a Celtic. 

For someone who has suffered as many losses as he has through the years, this change of scenery to Boston from Charlotte may be exactly what Walker needs to keep on smiling. 


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