ORLANDO, Fla. — The free time during the pandemic proved meaningful for Gordon Hayward. He was able to heal from various nagging injuries, including a broken hand and sore foot. He was able to spend time with his wife and three daughters, most notably teaching one how to ride her bike without training wheels.
“You can’t get that back,” Hayward said. “You can’t get those times back. It was great to be with family, fun to be with my girls, being able to do bedtime, bathtime every night. It was good in that standpoint.
“It’s good to be back shooting with the boys, being with the boys. It was a long time not to see anybody and play basketball; probably the longest time I’ve ever had not playing basketball.”
A completely healthy Hayward becomes a potential X-factor. This is probably the best he’s felt physically as a Celtic, and he carries motivation to finally live up to his maximum salary contract.
It’s been no fault of his own. Hayward suffered that ghastly broken leg/dislocated ankle five minutes into his Celtics’ tenure, missing the remainder of his first season. Last year was a major transition period, when he looked comfortable at times and unsure of himself in others. He began this season playing some of his best basketball before sustaining a broken hand in San Antonio on Nov. 9.
Hayward returned in December, then regained form in January. In his final 30 games before the season suspension, he averaged 17.7 points, 48.8 percent shooting, and 40.5 percent from the 3-point line. Only nagging injuries prevented an even better Hayward.
So can the Celtics faithful expect the Hayward who became an All-Star and max player in Utah? Their expectations have always been dampened by injuries and inconsistency — perhaps a lack of confidence — so Hayward isn’t going to boast because he hasn’t missed a drill in two weeks. But he wants to play well. That’s never been questioned.
“I want to be the best player I can be, and I want to help our team win basketball games,” he said. “We’ve seen throughout my time here in Boston, but even last year, that means different things on different nights. It could be scoring. It could be play-making. It could be defending. It could be switching on different people. I just want to help our team win.”
What Hayward made sure to emphasize is that if the Celtics play together — a major issue last season that led to their premature demise — then they can make a long playoff run. With Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker, there is enough talent to reach the Finals. But can they share the wealth enough to beat the better teams?
“We have to utilize all of each other’s strengths and help each other play to our strengths,” he said. “We have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things, a lot of guys who can score, that can defend. I think that’s what makes us dangerous, but we have to utilize each other. We’ve got to play to each other’s strengths, help each other, and if we do that, we’ll be good. We’ve got to stay away from the ‘take turns’ mentality and try to help each other as much as we can.”
Meanwhile, Hayward’s wife Robyn is expecting the couple’s fourth child — and first boy — in September. Hayward said a few weeks ago he would leave when she goes into labor. Being away from his pregnant wife and three young girls “sucks,” he said.
“It’s weird to think the next time I’m going to see [Robyn] is delivering our baby boy,” he said. “We’re adding another one to the family, and it’s really tough not being able to be with her in these moments. I don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant, [but] I know it’s exhausting and she’s able to be pregnant and be with three other little ones who are exhausting in their own right. She allows me to do what I do.”
Hayward stayed in Boston during the pandemic, and he now considers it his home. What will become tricky as the offseason approaches is a contract option for next season. Believe it or not, despite Hayward playing just 118 total games with the Celtics, he’s able to complete his third full season.
He has a $34.1 million option for next season, and it would be difficult to envision he would attract that yearly salary if he opts for free agency. With a shortened offseason and the salary cap likely to drop because of the pandemic, most players with contract options are expected to play it safe and exercise their final years. Hayward likely will do the same.
“It’s unprecedented, just like this situation is,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons you hire an agent, to let him do all that stuff, focus on basketball. I love being in Boston. Our family has settled in here. So we’ll see how it goes.”