The Boston Celtics are facing an uncertain reality as the 2019-20 season approaches, with reporting that both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are prepared to seek different employment in free agency. That roster shake-up, combined with Anthony Davis heading to Los Angeles, leaves the Celtics in something of a different stage but, in looking back to the disappointment of the 2018-19 campaign, an interesting subplot emerged this week.
NBC Sports Boston caught up with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan and discussed one source of tension this season. It revolved around the way the organization, and specifically head coach Brad Stevens, handled the reintegration of Gordon Hayward after a long-standing injury.
“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” MacMullan said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.
MacMullan later noted that she believed that Stevens “would have done that for any player on the roster.” In the same breath, however, she indicated that the prevailing sentiment was that Stevens “gave the gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”
Hayward’s injury recovery was a point of contention nationally, even aside from the reporting in this instance. After missing the entire 2017-18 season with a gruesome leg injury, Hayward simply wasn’t the same player and that, combined with drama with Irving and the locker room, made for quite an adventure. There is a school of thought that Hayward will be fully recovered, or at least closer to 100 percent, after a full summer of work, but that is a future-facing concern, rather than something to bank on when explaining the past.
It is impossible to tell just how much the ongoing Hayward saga contributed to what was widely believed to be an untenable locker room. MacMullan is as trustworthy as anyone when it comes to the Celtics, though, making this interesting food for thought.