RANDOLPH — Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has spent nearly a year working his way back from the gruesome ankle injury that cost him all but five minutes of his first season in Boston. The rehabilitation process has been long, grueling, and even tedious, as Hayward progressed from bearing weight on his left ankle to rebuilding strength and regaining the ability to make the quick, sharp cuts that are required in an NBA game.
Hayward says that he feels great now and that his ankle has fully recovered, and he is confident the injury will not have lingering effects as he begins yet another expectation-filled season. And the health of the ankle is quite important, but it is also true that until recently, Hayward had not been playing real basketball.
Shooting baskets while sitting in a chair is certainly a bit different than trying to defend LeBron James. So for Hayward, the biggest challenges as training camp begins Tuesday will likely be caused by lingering rust that he is still trying to scrape away.
“It’s coming back,” he said Saturday afternoon while leading his school-supply drive at Randolph Middle School. ”It’s definitely not all the way there. When you take a year off of basketball there’s just things that you really can’t get back until you just play. So I think the preseason will be good for that. I think training camp will be good for that, practicing with the guys.
“But it’ll come back, and when it does, I’ll be really excited.”
It will take Hayward some time to regain his rhythm, his basketball conditioning, and his comfort level, but he believes his shooting should reemerge with little issue, because for so long, that was really all he was able to do.
“I’ve done nothing but that for the last year, whether it’s in a chair or spot-shooting or whatever,” Hayward said. “So hopefully I shoot the ball a little bit better.”
Hayward started playing in five-on-five scrimmages about a month ago. Recently, he has joined his teammates for full-court runs at the Celtics’ new training facility in Brighton. The sessions have been helpful for Hayward, and they also have been eye-opening.
“You just realize how much talent that we have, how many guys that can do so many different things,” he said. “I think it’s been great that there’s been so many guys in the facility in September just so you can get some of that camaraderie, some chemistry, just be back around the team, be back around the guys. I think it’s always good when teams do that.”
The Celtics will be deep and talented, but that also brings some unique challenges as roles are determined and playing time is allotted. Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler, believes the coach will find a formula rather quickly.
“It’s something where Coach Stevens will put us in position to be successful,” Hayward said. “I have no doubt about that. He’s done that throughout his career when I was at Butler, too. I look at it as we just have a lot of weapons, a lot of talent. I’m going to do whatever I can to help us win. That’s my only goal, and let him worry about the other stuff.”