The Boston Celtics enter the 2018-2019 season as the betting favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals and that means big-time expectations. For a team that made the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago, that doesn’t seem out of the ordinary but, given the fact that Brad Stevens’ team made their playoff run without the services of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, it is very easy to see why many believe Boston might be the team best situated to dethrone the Golden State Warriors in June.
With that goal on the table, Celtics fans received some good news this week, as GM Danny Ainge shared a (very) positive report on the status of both previously injured stars.
“They’ll both be here within the next week or so,” Ainge told ESPN’s Chris Forsberg. “By the time Labor Day is over, they will all be playing 5-on-5. I think it’s just a matter of, if they’re not playing 5-on-5 now, then it’s only because they want it more of a controlled environment, I guess. They’re doing everything — dunking the basketball off both legs and playing 1-on-1 live and jumping and cutting and defending. I’m excited for them.”
With training camp still almost one month away, it is certainly a positive to hear buzz that Irving and Hayward are on track, even if that was the widespread expectation (at least with Irving) for some time. The Celtics are blessed with an impressive depth chart when assuming full health and, in advance of camp, Ainge expects Irving and Hayward to be “going full speed” sooner rather than later.
“I don’t want to hype it up too much, but I’m saying that, if our training camp were starting today, that they would be here today going full speed,” Ainge told ESPN. “It’s not like they need an extra month. I think that they know they have an extra month so they are sort of pacing themselves. They’re playing as if to build up to that opening day of training camp [on Sept. 26].”
If anything, the presumptive return of Hayward and Irving gives Boston an overflowing collection of talent, to the point where starter-quality players like Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are projected to slot into bench roles. That should also allow Stevens to tinker with lineups throughout the season and, perhaps more importantly, keep the team’s top-tier talent healthy with a reduced workload in the regular season.
In the end, it isn’t a shock to see either Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward on track for a 100 percent return in advance of training camp but that won’t stop Celtics fans from being excited at the prospect of having the full roster available from day one.