BURLINGTON — For most NBA players, summer offers a chance to get away from their coaches and training facilities so they can recharge on their own time after a grueling season. Celtics forward Gordon Hayward usually went to his home in San Diego, where beaches and beautiful weather were waiting.
But this past season was frustrating. The Celtics, who entered the year with NBA Finals hopes, were walloped in the second round of the playoffs by the Bucks after a lukewarm regular season. And Hayward never regained his All-Star form or his confidence as he returned after missing a year with an ankle injury.
San Diego probably would have offered an escape, but instead, Hayward chose to stay in Boston, with the team’s practice facility a short drive from his Wellesley home, and several members of the coaching staff and plenty of rookies nearby to help him train.
“It was just important for me to stay here and work with the staff,” Hayward said Tuesday, after taking part in the Celtics’ Arbella home-court makeover at a Burlington residence. “They kind of knew exactly where I was at after the season, and I wanted to build off of that and also work with the coaches and get ready for the upcoming year.”
Last summer, Hayward’s progress was stalled when he needed a second surgery to remove hardware that had been inserted in his leg during his first procedure the previous fall. His training was usually restricted, with drills limited to a certain time period or number of reps. Now, there is no need to count anymore.
“I think more than anything just building back some confidence, being able to do everything that I’m used to doing, and just having the reps,” Hayward said. “Reps is what gives you confidence, so being able to do things over and over and over and not worry about how my ankle’s feeling, or having to be cautious with it, has been really good.”
Hayward said that even as last season unfolded and things gradually improved, there was always lingering uncertainty, and that had an impact.
“I think last year was a lot of hoping and not really knowing what was going to happen, just because I didn’t have the reps, and going into a brand-new system with brand-new teammates,” he said. “And now after playing with everybody for a year and being around everyone, and more than anything going through a summer where I could train as hard as I want to, it’s a lot better for my confidence, and expectations-wise as well.”
Last season, big expectations weighed on both Hayward and the Celtics, including coach Brad Stevens. Hayward played for Stevens at Butler, and Stevens’s presence played a big role in Hayward’s decision to sign a max contract with Boston two summers ago. It was clear to Hayward that last year was tough for his coach, but he said that Stevens has seemed invigorated recently.
“I think it was challenging for everybody, and certainly for Brad trying to manage everything would be a difficult task,” Hayward said, “so I think he’s for sure excited about who we have as a group right now, and I think he’s pretty confident in what we can accomplish.”
Hayward, believe it or not, is suddenly one of the most tenured Celtics following yet another offseason of upheaval. The biggest change is that point guard Kyrie Irving is gone, replaced by another All-Star, Kemba Walker. Hayward said the Celtics will miss Irving and his skills, but he is eager to team up with Walker.
“I think obviously a veteran guy, so some leadership, but somebody that’s just a game-changer with his quickness, probing in the lane,” he said. “He’s able to find seams that a lot of guys can’t just because of his change of speed and obviously his scoring ability, too. We’ll lean on him a lot for sure.”
Hayward was also teammates with new Celtics center Enes Kanter for a year with the Utah Jazz, and he said the big man will quickly become a fan favorite in Boston.
“Everyone’s going to love his energy that he brings,” Hayward said. “He’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the league, so that’s going to be a no-doubt, but he’s gotten really well at the mid-roll, half-roll area, making decisions in there and also in a game that doesn’t have very many post players. He’s a bucket on the block. He always has been.”