Boston Celtics Coach Brad Stevens hinted that injured former All Star Gordon Hayward could be added to the Celtics’ playoff roster — but Stevens may have been simply joking, according to a reporter for the Boston Herald newspaper. Rumors that Hayward may be back in action for the NBA postseason would clearly excite Celtics fans who have watched their promising team — which opened the season with a 16-game winning streak after two losses — suffer through a series of debilitating injuries to star players this season.
The Celtics, who are guaranteed no lower than the No. 2 seed in the East, will enter the playoffs without their leading (24.4 points per game) scorer Kyrie Irving and top defensive player Marcus Smart. Another force off the bench, German rookie Daniel Theiss, will miss the entire postseason.
Hayward, who along with Irving made up Boston’s high-profile package of offseason acquisitions, suffered an apparently season-ending ankle injury just six minutes into the first game of the season, back on October 18.
An unexpected return by Hayward would throw the Eastern Conference playoff outlook into turmoil. A doctor, however, warns that the Boston faithful should not get their hopes up for a miraculous Hayward comeback.
“His rehab has not been going as quickly as I had thought,” orthopedic surgeon Dr. Chris Chihlas told NBC Sports Boston on Tuesday. “The potential for him to come back this season is not going to happen now.”
Nonetheless, according to Herald NBA beat reporter Mark Murphy, “Stevens has an idea about bringing Gordon Hayward back for the playoffs: ‘Maybe just to list him as questionable, just to mess with people.'”
The “joking” comment, as Murphy later described it, seemed like less of a joke when Hayward on Monday was seen in a video clip “jogging up and down the court inside the Celtics’ practice facility,” according to the Celtics official site, which described Hayward’s return to running under his own power, rather than on a treadmill, as a “significant step” in the rehabilitation of the player’s ankle injury.
NBA playoff rosters for the opening round must be submitted to the league office on April 13, meaning that if Hayward were actually to be ready for the Celtics postseason run, he would have nine days to show enough progress to get his name on the roster. According to what Stevens told NBC Sports Boston, that seems extremely unlikely.
“We can talk about the videos, but he’s not playing,” Stevens said.
Celtics fans can check out Hayward’s return to running on a basketball court in the video below, as posted by The Players Tribune site.
— The Players' Tribune (@PlayersTribune) April 2, 2018
“Despite all of the protestations to the contrary, (Celtics President of Basketball Operations) Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens are still not 100 percent sure that Hayward will not be back later in the playoffs,” wrote Celtics Life blogger Tom Lane, following Murphy’s report of Stevens’ “joke.”
But in comments to ESPN on Monday, Stevens again tried to snuff out expectations of Hayward’s return, describing Hayward — who played under Stevens at Butler University during that team’s Cinderella run to the final of the 2010 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament — as “a long, long way away” from resuming full basketball activities.
On Tuesday, Hayward himself on his Twitter feed called his running session “just another step in the right direction.”