No matter how you slice it, losing Gordon Hayward for what appears to be the entire season, probably means; as Charles Barkley said, “The Celtics season is over”. It was a horrific injury to watch live. It was heart wrenching to see Hayward on the ground in obvious shock; as well as his teammates, opponents, fans, and announcers, all in silent disbelief.
Obviously nothing is more important in the big picture than Hayward’s long term health and recovery; basketball is secondary. That being said, the games are why we watch. There was a ton of excitement and buzz on this Celtics team 48 hours ago, along with a ton of questions. Now the questions have increased by one.
If last night’s opener was any indication, the loss may not be as devastating as originally thought and in a weird way, actually help the Celtics long term. As it was, coach Brad Stevens needed to coach the team differently than he has in recent years. He’s always had a deep bench and typically played nine or 10 players every game, with names like Jerebko, Zeller, and Olynyk often sprinkling the box score. This season, with only four returning players, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier, the team doesn’t have the same depth. Losing Hayward only makes the dilemma worse.
But, in looking at the box score from the opener against Cleveland, two things were eye popping which should give Celtics fans some hope. First, this could be Jaylen Brown’s coming out party. The second year 6’7”, 20 year old, scored 25 points on 11 for 23 shooting, in 39 minutes. Second, rookie Jayson Tatum took 12 shots, scoring 14 points in 36 minutes of playing time, and amassing 10 rebounds. If we take a closer look at the two youngsters and compare them with Hayward, one could say, they each play the same position, and have similar games. Hayward is 6’8” and 225lbs, Brown is 6’7” and 225lbs, while Tatum is 6’8” and 205lbs. With a healthy Hayward on the floor, there is no way that Brown and Tatum combine for 75 minutes of playing time. They are the two players who really stand to benefit with the loss of Hayward, which; in the long run, will only enhance their development.
And let’s not forget; the Celtics still have Al Horford and newly acquired Kyrie Irving, (who many have predicted will compete for MVP). I’m not saying that losing Hayward isn’t terrible, or won’t cost the Celtics some games this year, but some didn’t think they were ready to compete with the Cavaliers or Golden State Warriors anyway. The Celtics will still be able to compete for one of the two top seeds in the Eastern Conference, and get themselves back into the Eastern Conference Finals. And, with any luck, Hayward may be back with the team for a playoff run, (although I wouldn’t hold my breath).
But regardless, the net result of Hayward’s injury just may be the ascension of Jaylen Brown as a genuine scoring threat, while becoming the league’s next superstar. For Celtics fans, they hope that’s the case.