Gordon Hayward on chances of Celtics return this season: 'The hope is still there'

Two weeks after suffering a horrific left ankle injury mere minutes into his first game as a member of the Boston Celtics, Gordon Hayward declared himself out for the rest of the 2017-18 NBA season. Four and a half months later, though, the All-Star forward says he’s no longer so sure about that.

In the months since Hayward’s devastating opening-night injury, Hayward and the Celtics have kept the door to a Hayward return ever so slightly ajar. As the 27-year-old forward has progressed from surgery to sit-down shooting to getting out of his ankle boot, Celtics fans have continued to hold out hope that the former Utah Jazz star who chose Boston as one of last summer’s most sought-after free agents would be able to get back on the court in time to bolster their team’s chances of toppling LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers (or whoever else winds up atop the Eastern Conference) and returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

Coach Brad Stevens, for his part, has thrown bucket after bucket of cold water on the prospect, saying flatly twice in the last month — including last week — that Hayward would not play for the Celtics this season. But despite the coach’s protestations, and despite multiple other sources close to the situation — like Hayward’s own father — saying this week that they don’t believe Hayward will return to the court before next season, many Celtics fans see stuff like the recently released video of Hayward going through ball-handling workouts and shooting jumpers and continue to believe that he’ll come back before year’s end.

“Whether they want to activate him, whether they want to play him or not, that’s a whole different question. But I truly believe that before the playoffs are over, we’ll see him in a Celtics uniform,” Mike Gorman, the team’s longtime play-by-play broadcaster, said this week. “I just believe it.”

Beliefs, though, can vary from person to person.

“I don’t believe that Gordon thinks he’s going to play [this season],” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said this week. “I don’t think so, no.”

Evidently, Ainge was wrong.

Gordon Hayward’s not ready to say “never” just yet. (Getty)
Gordon Hayward’s not ready to say “never” just yet. (Getty)

From ESPN’s Chris Forsberg:

“My thoughts are that I take it day by day. And I said that from the very beginning, that’s what I would do, not putting a timetable on it,” Hayward said Friday while unveiling a new gym for students at the Timilty Middle School in Roxbury. “The recovery is going well. I’m progressing well. I was in the facility this morning, will be in the facility tomorrow. And that’s kinda my goal — just really focusing day by day.” […]

“The hope is still there,” Hayward said. “It’s something where I’m really honestly not even thinking about it. I know we’re getting toward the end of the year. It’s something that I’m still working toward, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”

To be clear: the odds are still very much that it won’t happen. Our Chris Mannix wrote that, before last month’s All-Star break, Hayward’s “ankle was still swollen and still purpleish, which makes it impossible to believe he will be ready to play before mid-April.” Stevens said last week that Hayward is “a super long way away from even being on 1-on-0 workout where he’s cutting.” Ainge said Thursday that Hayward is “not even full weight-bearing on his foot doing anything yet,” and that “once he’s 100-percent cleared physically, which he’s not close to that yet, there’s a long process of just getting your mind and your confidence in your foot and overcoming the mental part of it.”

By all accounts, Hayward’s doing everything he can to put himself in position to prove the doubters wrong. He told reporters that he “ran at 70 percent of his body weight on an anti-gravity treadmill at the team’s practice facility Friday morning,” and that once he gets to 80 percent, “he expects to be able to transition to running on his full body weight.” He’s still a far way off from explosive leaping, but he said he “can do ‘baby jumps,'” which is something, at least.

Actually, it’s a hell of a lot more than “something,” considering how dire Hayward’s situation seemed on opening night. But with only 16 games left in the regular season, it just doesn’t seem like nearly enough to believe that Hayward will be able to get on the court for live action before April 11. And if he can’t do that, then asking him to go from six months on the shelf to the line of fire in the crucible of the playoffs would seem tantamount to malpractice on the parts of Ainge, Stevens and the Celtics’ decision-makers.

It makes all the sense in the world that Hayward would work with this goal in mind, and he deserves all the credit in the world for attacking his rehab so aggressively that we’re even having this conversation. It’s a wonderful idea. It would make an amazing story. But with just five weeks to go until the start of the playoffs, I think we have to put the idea of Gordon Hayward suiting up again as a member of the 2017-18 Boston Celtics squarely in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!

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