Is it safe to hop on the Gordon Hayward hype train?

Is it safe to hop on the Gordon Hayward hype train?

BOSTON — The Gordon Hayward hype train officially departed North Station on June 5 when Danny Ainge, less than a month removed from his team’s disappointing postseason exit, gushed about, “anticipating great things,” from Hayward based on his early offseason workouts at the team’s practice facility.

Since then, that train has become a runaway locomotive, with members at every level of the Celtics organization raving about Hayward throughout the offseason. That train seemingly rumbled off the MBTA tracks outside the Auerbach Center Wednesday and smashed through the walls of Red’s House when Enes Kanter doubled-down on his already bold proclamation that Hayward should be eyeing a return to the All-Star game this season.

"He’s back. He’s 100 percent back,” said Kanter. "He’s going to shock the world this year.”

It’s 100 percent fair to be skeptical. Even as Hayward endured a second surgery on his ankle last summer, there was no shortage of ballyhoo in the ramp to the 2018-19 season — in part because the Celtics were also adding a healthy Kyrie Irving to a team that came four minutes away from a trip to the NBA Finals.

Kanter, regarded as a Hall of Fame locker room guy, also has a long history of talking up his teammates. Heck, he raved about coach Brad Stevens’ basketball skills last month. So if you want to be leery of Kanter’s proclamation, we get it. But know that he’s also practicing what he preaches.

"When Coach puts us in 5-on-5 [scrimmages during training camp], I always try to sneak on Gordon's team,” Kanter told NBC Sports Boston after Wednesday’s morning workout. "When I go against him I’m like, ‘Ugh.’ He’s good, man.”

It’d be one thing if Kanter was the only person gassing up Hayward. But this has been universal. Whispers in the ramp to camp were that Hayward was easily the best player in Boston’s informal scrimmages, though it should be noted that players like Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum were limited participants while recovering from the World Cup grind.

At the very least, Hayward has increased his odds of hitting the ground running this year with his summer efforts.

Hayward put his San Diego residence on the market and bunkered down in Boston this offseason. He spent most weekday mornings working out with the Celtics’ training staff at the Auerbach Center and his dedication to staying close encouraged fellow teammates to do the same.

Stevens, never one to overhype his players, has routinely noted how Hayward has positioned himself for success with his offseason dedication. Asked Wednesday how Hayward has looked at the start of camp, Stevens responded, "The investment has been well-documented over the summer. And you can see it. You can see it.”

That’s about as high of praise as you’ll get from Stevens. Which leads us to believe that, when there’s this much smoke, there’s usually fire (kind of like when everyone kept saying that Irving was definitely bound for Brooklyn).

It’s absolutely fair to want to see it. The Celtics have kept nearly all of their camp activity behind closed doors to this point, with media members seeing only limited shooting drills at the end of morning sessions the past two days. So we’ve been left to get scouting reports from Hayward’s teammates. And, considering there are eight rookies in camp, you can take their views with a grain of salt.

Asked for his opinion of what he’s seen of Hayward, rookie Vincent Poirier, an imported French big man, said simply, “He looks like he never got injured,” then raved about Hayward’s full-throttle mentality in camp.

A real glimpse will come soon, at least by Sunday’s exhibition opener against the Charlotte Hornets. It should be evident quickly whether Hayward is truly playing with the same sort of confidence and ability as the one the Celtics lured away from Utah on a four-year, $128 million contract in the summer of 2017.

Kanter insists his bullishness about Hayward goes beyond just how he’s looked on the court.

“It’s his leadership,” said Kanter. "He already had a lot of confidence in himself but he seems so comfortable out there. Because I played against him last year and then, what I've seen the last two days, how he plays, how he leads, it’s just very special.”

Kanter admitted he could tell Hayward wasn’t quite himself last year, especially early in the season. The two players were teammates in Utah and Kanter saw the early stages of Hayward’s evolution into an All-Star.

Now he wants to see him get back to that level and believes he will.

“He's the type of guy that not only makes himself better, he makes everybody else better around him,” said Kanter. "That’s what makes him really special.”

For his part, Hayward said Wednesday that, “The body feels 100 percent.” Earlier in the week he noted how training in Boston allowed him to build the sort of momentum that had been sapped by the second surgery last summer.

"I have been through a lot — and just in the last two years — and it is exciting to have that full offseason where I can train and get back to what I’m used to doing and not worry about my ankle or health or anything like that,” said Hayward. “Now having two years with the guys and the staff and building relationships and different things like that, it’s definitely better in that regard, too, so certainly I'm looking forward to this upcoming season and I’m ready to get it going.”

Hayward is scheduled to earn $32.7 million this season. A return to All-Star form could leave him with an interesting dilemma next summer, as he has an early termination option. Hayward is set to earn $34.2 million in the final year of his Boston deal but could opt out and seek a more bountiful max-salary deal, now with 10 years of NBA experience.

The Celtics will happily cross that bridge if it means Hayward gets back to his previous form. Getting him there could be the biggest key in Boston outkicking its already tempered expectations this season.

If he doesn’t, the Celtics have some tough decisions of their own about how to move forward. The team has a glut of talented wings and both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum could soon command big paydays. Hayward’s bulky salary could make it enticing for the Celtics to make a big in-season trade — maybe allowing them to jump into the fray if Bradley Beal becomes available, or any other disgruntled star that hits the trade market.

For now, the Celtics would rather just get the Hayward they had before his gruesome ankle injury. They want the Hayward that everyone has been hyping all offseason.

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Celtics' Jaylen Brown participates in peaceful protest in Atlanta

File photo

Celtics' Jaylen Brown participates in peaceful protest in Atlanta

BOSTON -- The death of George Floyd in Minnesota after ex-police officer Derek Chauvin planted his knee firmly on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, 46 seconds, has brought many throughout the country to protest the rising number of police brutality-related incidents. 

You can count Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown among them. 

Brown was in Atlanta on Saturday participating in a peaceful protest and explained why through his IG Live account why he made the 15-hour drive to be there. 

“Being a celebrity, being an NBA player doesn’t exclude me from those conversations, at all,” Brown said. “First and foremost I’m a black man and I am a member of this community and I grew up on this soil. So, I want to say that first and foremost.”

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Brown was among those in Atlanta walking the streets with signage, making a statement in an undeniably peaceful manner which was in contrast to what was happening in other major cities across America. 

“It’s a peaceful protest; we’re walking, that’s it,” he said. “Raising awareness to some of the injustices we’ve been seeing. It’s not OK. As a young person, you have to listen to our perspective; our voices need to be heard.

Brown added, “I’m 23 years old. I don’t know all the answers. But I feel like how everybody else is feeling, for sure.”

Another Larry Bird milestone to assert his place among the all-time greats

Another Larry Bird milestone to assert his place among the all-time greats

BOSTON -- The 1986 Boston Celtics are considered one of the greatest teams of all time, having run through the regular season with ease towards a dominant postseason that ended with the team hanging Banner 16.

But weeks before the franchise’s triumphant conclusion to the season, there was another historic milestone.

Larry Bird was named the league’s MVP 34 years ago this week for the third straight season, a feat that only two others - Bill Russell (1961-1963) and Wilt Chamberlain (1966-1968) - had ever done.

It’s significant because it serves as yet another reminder of how historically great Bird was; not only for the Boston Celtics but for the entire league.

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To carve out a spot in history with such an elusive group speaks to Bird’s greatness as a player who at the very least should be in the conversation as one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history. 

And what made that season even more special was that during the playoffs, the elite level at which Bird played during the regular season did not waiver or lessen up in the games that mattered the most. 

In the playoffs that year, he averaged 25.9 points (0.1 points less than his season average) while increasing his field goal shooting (51.7 percent in the playoffs, 49.6 in the regular season), assists (9.8, from 8.2) and steals (2.1, from 2.0).

And when the game was on the line, the only thing larger than Bird’s ability to come through in the clutch, was his confidence.

“There’s no doubt I’m in control of what I do out there,” Bird said in an interview in 1986. “I can score any number of points my team wants me to if they give me the ball in the right situations.”

And he did, over and over and over again before finally calling it quits on his Hall of Fame career in 1992. 

Throughout his time in Boston, Bird had a number of stretches of brilliance as a basketball player. 

But the three-year run in which he was the league’s best player, resulting in three consecutive league MVP awards, stands out in a career that was filled with standout moments.