There were cries among the foolish in recent weeks that Gordon Hayward had changed and never would be the same player the Celtics first signed. The critics were made to look a little like the legislator proclaiming climate change a hoax by holding up a snowball.
Times change. Things change. The snowball melts. And, albeit in a very small sample, Hayward has warmed, as well. Saturday’s 30-point effort in a road win against Minnesota capped a back-to-throwback weekend that saw him hit 14-of-25 shots overall, including 5-of-8 3-pointers.
But what’s even more interesting than a star player getting reoriented with his talent and confidence after a major injury — as if that’s not your basic logical flow model — is how much change has happened around Hayward.
Think about it. The Celtics fraternity he pledged has been regularly altered in significant ways.
After being heavily recruited in the summer of 2017, the prized free agent was able to envision himself playing alongside Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder and Al Horford, and he agreed to be Green on July 4.
By the time he got to training camp, Thomas and Crowder were gone. Kyrie Irving was here, not that there was anything wrong with that in the least.
After suffering a lower-leg fracture 5:15 into his first regular-season game with the Celts, there were months of arduous rehab. And during this span, Jayson Tatum was able to blossom in a manner that was unexpected at such an early stage of his career. So when Hayward returned for this season’s training camp, he wasn’t the only star-type forward. He had to adjust to the point where he’s been coming off the bench in his past six games.
The situation he expected in 2017 has become quite different.
“It has, yeah,” Hayward said. “But, I mean, I think that’s kind of how the NBA works. Things can happen really quickly.
“I figured that out my first year in Utah when (coach) Jerry Sloan re-signed and (Deron Williams) got traded. Our All-Star point guard and our coach who’d been there for like 20-something years. I would have never thought those two would have left, and then boom, they’re gone. So I know how it works.
“It definitely is different than when I first signed up here, but that’s OK.”
Admittedly, Hayward had a little whiplash that first summer.
“Right,” he said. “I mean, Isaiah was such an unbelievable player for the Celtics for those couple of years, so I was looking forward to playing with him. But then they trade him and get Kyrie, who’s an amazing player.
“It was like, ‘I’m looking forward to playing with Isaiah.’ Then it’s like, ‘OK, now I’m looking forward to playing with Kyrie.’”
Tatum always was expected to contribute to the Celtics, even as a rookie. Remember, with Marcus Morris out, Tatum started alongside Hayward on opening night in 2017. But the latter’s injury gave Tatum more of the workload, and he handled it well.
“I think Jayson was always going to be a good player in this league, a great player,” Hayward said. “It was something where it was like a matter of time. And then that just got kind of accelerated last year, and I think that’s good for our team. We just have to figure out how to utilize everybody now. But you can’t teach experience. We just have to figure it out.”
The figuring hasn’t always been easy. The Celtics’ 10-10 start before these past three wins attests to that. Brad Stevens has sought to even out the rotation as the C’s transition from starters to reserves, but clearly things were different from the start with Tatum still in nearly the same role he had last season. Hayward had to adjust.
“Yeah, I think it changes things for our whole team because it adds another guy that you can count on and another guy that you can try to use to help you win basketball games,” he said. “I mean, it changes things for me, it changes things for Kyrie, it changes things for Al, it changes things for everybody, for (Jaylen Brown). It changes it for the good, and now we just have to figure out how we can put all the pieces together.”
No doubt, the Celts are doing a better job of that in the past week-plus, but there still is a long way to go.
And how will Hayward’s role evolve as his horrible injury fades further into the rearview mirror? Will he eventually find his way back into the starting lineup? Will it ever be as he’d envisioned? And would the current landscape cause him to think twice about the Celtics if he were a free agent now?
“I mean, it’s hard to say,” Hayward began, at first not wishing to deal with such an out-of-the blue hypothetical.
“But I think you’re still looking at a team that has a lot of pieces and a chance to win the whole thing, and that’s what I was looking for.”