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New York Knicks 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

For the first time in a while the New York Knicks have a bright future in front of them, the question is will that materialize into a playoff run this season? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Knicks in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

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The New York Knicks looked like a dumpster fire two summers ago and after some savvy moves in the draft and the hiring of David Fizdale as head coach the Knicks not only look like a team on the rise, they might be one of the teams to watch this season as a sneaky play for the post-season.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

For all of the criticism I have given the New York Knicks in the past, I must admit that I like a lot of the moves they made this summer. I think bringing in David Fizdale is going to make a big-time difference on the court and in the locker room for this team. New York also did well in adding on players that have actual upside without compromising its cap flexibility moving forward. New York signed Mario Hezonja to a one-year, $6.5 million contract and signed Noah Vonleh to a non-guaranteed one-year, $1,621,415 contract. I like that New York is taking a chance on young players who haven’t fulfilled expectations but still have the chance to develop and contribute. I also liked the drafting of Kevin Knox, who projects to be a very good player. With all of this in mind, New York has its eye primarily on the recovery of Kristaps Porzingis and next offseason. There are rumors that New York could land some big-time free agents next year, so making a good showing on the court this year will be particularly important.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Jesse Blancarte

Am I dreaming, or did the Knicks actually play it smart this summer? They uncharacteristically made wise decisions this summer, such as drafting Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Nobody said the Knicks couldn’t draft but adding young prospects like Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh for cheap? Those were smart, not typical Knicks moves. Now, pending any surprises, they won’t see much success this year with Kristaps Porzingis out indefinitely. The upshot is that if this summer is a sign of things to come, then the Knicks are taking that first step towards relevance.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Matt John

Team culture is what it’ll be all about for David Fizdale and the Knicks this coming season. While Kristaps Porzingis rehabs and hopefully returns from his knee injury, others will need to help fill the void. Rookie players Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson are going to inject some much-needed new life into this franchise. Mario Hezonja was a sneaky good signing by general manager Scott Perry as well. Besides those guys, New York would love to see Tim Hardaway Jr. build and improve on last year’s numbers, especially upping that three-point percentage. This ball club is in for a dogfight being in the Atlantic, though.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Spencer Davies

In one sense, it feels like the Knicks might finally be lifting themselves up out of the purgatory that was the Carmelo Anthony/Phil Jackson ending. Kristaps Porzingis represents a foundational star the franchise hasn’t had in years, and there’s plenty of optimism about draftees Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Add in a surprising resurgence from Trey Burke, some strong rookie stretches from Frank Ntilikina and a new head coach in David Fizdale, and there are some real reasons for optimism in the Big Apple. At the same time, though, Porzingis’ torn ACL makes one realize just how thin this current roster is after him; someone like Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. might legitimately be the star of this unicorn-less squad. The Knicks don’t expect Porzingis back until at least December, likely longer, and they’ll be one of the worst teams in the league until that point. One even wonders whether the priority with Porzingis should be complete, 100 percent health rather than rushing back to add a few wins that almost certainly won’t equal a playoff berth.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Ben Dowsett

The Knicks look like a team that could surprise the pundits and sneak into in the post-season – if Kristaps Porzingis can make a quicker than expected recovery. Keep in mind ACL tears are not what they used to be and while no one wants to risk anything long-term with KP, there is a window in all of this that suggests if KP is back by the end of December, the Knicks might have enough talent to be a 35-40 win team. That kind of production would put the Knicks squarely in the hunt for the 8th seed in the East, which would be a solid season.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Tim Hardaway Jr.

Kristaps Porzingis would obviously get the nod here if he were healthy, but KP tore his left ACL last February and is expected to miss at least the first three months of the 2018-19 campaign. In Porzingis’ absence, much of the scoring load will fall onto the shoulders of Hardaway Jr. The Knicks have a lot invested in THJ, as they doled out a four-year, $71 million contract to Hardaway Jr. in July of 2017. Last season, he averaged 17.5 points per game, but was disappointingly inefficient. He shot just 42.1 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from 3-point territory. If he can bump up those percentages closer to his 2016-17 levels (45.5 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from downtown), his scoring average could climb close to 20 points per contest. With limited offensive firepower on the roster, the Knicks need him to step up.

Top Defensive Player: Frank Ntilikina

Despite entering the league as a teenager last season, Ntilikina quickly established himself a terrific perimeter defender. The French Prince uses his height (6-foot-5) and length (seven-foot wingspan) to terrorize opponents as they cross halfcourt. His size and athleticism allow Ntilikina to guard multiple positions, from points guards to small forwards. His Defensive Rating (104.9) was best among Knicks regulars in 2017-18. If Frank can take his defense to the next level, he may have a chance to earn some consideration as an All-NBA defender in 2018-19.

Top Playmaker: Trey Burke

Burke is one of the more intriguing players on the Knicks roster heading into the 2018-19 campaign. Despite being selected with the ninth overall pick by the Jazz in the 2013 NBA draft, Burke had fallen off the NBA radar by the end of 2017. With no team offering guaranteed money, he was forced to settle for a G-League contract with New York. Burke rededicated himself and averaged 26.6 points and 5.3 assists per game for the Westchester Knicks. He was finally called up in mid-January and posted impressive numbers right away. He eventually worked his way into the starting lineup by March and started the final nine games of the regular season, averaging an impressive 18.7 points, 7.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and just 1.9 turnovers. Can Burke come close to matching that type of production again next season? We shall see.

Top Clutch Player: Tim Hardaway Jr.

Until Porzingis gets back in the mix, the Knicks will likely have to lean on Hardaway Jr. late in games. Unfortunately for New York, THJ has historically been a bit too reliant on his sometimes unreliable jumper. The Knicks need to encourage him to attack the basket more frequently and get himself to the free-throw stripe, especially in late-game situations.

The Unheralded Player: Courtney Lee

Looking at Lee’s final stat line from last season doesn’t tell the whole story. After the Knicks fell out of contention after the All-Star break, New York significantly reduced his playing time and opted to see what their younger players could bring to the table. However, when receiving consistent minutes over the first half of the season, Lee proved he was still a valuable 3-and-D wing. Over the first 60 games of the season, Lee led New York in total points, made 3-pointers, steals, minutes played and ranked third in rebounds. He is a bit misplaced on a rebuilding squad featuring a pair of teenagers, but talent evaluators around the NBA respect what he can bring to a competitive “win now” team. With two years and $25 million left on his current contract, the Knicks will likely look to move him by the February trade deadline in order to create the most cap space possible for the summer of 2019.

Best New Addition: Kevin Knox

When the Knicks selected Knox with the 9th overall pick in the 2018 draft, most pundits assumed it would take a while before he acclimated himself to the NBA game. At just 18 years of age, he was one of the youngest players in the entire draft and was inefficient offensively as a freshman at Kentucky. However, Knox was spectacular during Las Vegas Summer League action. He was named to the Summer League’s All-NBA First Team after averaging 21.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.5 three-pointers and one steal in 32.2 minutes.

– Tommy Beer

WHO WE LIKE

1. Kristaps Porzingis

It’s tough not to like Porzingis. At the start of last season, he showed that he has the potential to be one of the more dominant two-way players in the entire sport. Over New York’s first 12 games in 2017-18, he averaged 30.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 three-pointers and 2.3 blocks. In the process, he became the first Knickerbocker in franchise history to score at least 300 points over the first ten games of a season. If he can return healthy, his upside is enormous.

2. David Fizdale

Fizdale was one of the hot free-agent coaching commodities on the market this summer. He interviewed for numerous teams and was offered the Suns head coaching gig, but said it was a dream of his to coach in New York. He won’t have much pressure on him next season in terms of wins and losses, but he will be tasked with developing the Knicks young core. With Knox, Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson all 20 years of age or younger, it’s imperative that New York’s coaching staff puts these youngsters on the path to maximizing their full potential.

3. Mario Hezonja

Scott Perry, the Orlando Magic vice president and assistant general manager in 2015, and the Magic were reportedly hoping to land Porzingis with the 5th pick in the draft. However, Phil Jackson and the Knicks snagged KP at No. 4 and Orlando selected Hezonja. Super Mario did not live up to expectations over his first two years in Florida. As a result, the Magic decided to decline hia fourth-year option on his rookie contract last October. However, due to a rash of injuries to Magic forwards, Mario was given extended opportunities to play and he made the most of it. He started 30 games last season and averaged 14.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 three-pointers and 1.5 steals, while shooting 46. percent from the floor. With Porzingis sidelined, there will plenty of minutes and shot attempts up for grabs, especially at power forward. Hezonja has a chance to step in and step up.

4. Mitchell Robinson

Like Knox, not much was expected of Robinson this season. After a stellar high school career, Robinson mysteriously sat out his freshman season on the collegiate level, choosing instead to prepare for the draft by working with an individual trainer. As a result, he slipped into the second round, where the Knicks scooped him up. Like Knox, he greatly exceeded expectations in Las Vegas. Robinson averaged 13.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, one steal and (a record-breaking) four blocks per game, while shooting a scorching 66.7 percent from the field.

– Tommy Beer

STRENGTHS

When a team finishes a season ranked 24th in offensive efficiency (scoring 104.1 points per 100 possessions) and 23rd in defensive efficiency (allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions) as the Knicks did in 2017-18, it’s difficult to pinpoint many strengths. However, for the first time in a long time, New Yorkers have reason to be optimistic about the future. It looks like the Knicks may have nailed both their 2018 draft picks. Their 2017 lottery selection, Frank Ntilikina, is only 19 has flashed elite defensive potential. And New York will likely have enough cap space next summer to make a max offer to the top free agents on the market. While the short-term outlook is somewhat bleak, the Knicks should be a fun team to watch next season and could be markedly better by 2020.

– Tommy Beer

WEAKNESSES

Ever since Phil Jackson was hired as president back in 2014 and “encouraged” the head coaches he hired to run the Triangle Offense, the Knicks have been far too reliant on mid-range jumpers. Last season, even though Jackson had already been fired, former head coach Jeff Hornacek failed to fix this flaw. In 2017-18, 62.1 percent of the total points the Knicks scored came off 2-point field goals, which was the highest such percentage among all NBA teams. In addition, 73.4 percent of all New York’s field-goal attempts were 2-pointers. In today’s NBA, the 3-point shot is more important and valuable than ever, yet the Knicks have been behind the times. One of the reasons David Fizdale was hired was that he has shown an ability to get his teams to take and make shots from downtown.

– Tommy Beer

THE BURNING QUESTION

When will Kristaps Porzingis return to the Knicks lineup?

As noted above, KP is working his way back from a torn ACL in his left knee. The typical recovery time for NBA players is usually 10-12 months. There have been some rumors from Porzingis’ camp that he is targeting a return around Christmas. However, that may be overly optimistic. It’s probably safe to assume that New York won’t be competitive this season. They had the second-worst record in the NBA over the last 50 games of the 2017-18 season. Vegas sports books have set their 2018-19 win total over/under at 29. They also have a very unfavorable schedule early on. With Porzingis sidelined for at least the first two months, they will likely be well under .500 by the time he is close to being cleared. At that point, why would there be a need to rush him back into action? It would be prudent to wait until he is as close to 100 percent as possible. In addition to extra patience likely being best for Porzingis, it could benefit the Knicks as well by increasing their odds of landing a high lottery pick next summer. Having KP return after the All-Star break makes sense for all concerned. This way Porzingis still gets two months to show he is healthy, which is important for his confidence heading into the offseason, and also serves as proof to potential free agents that KP is ready to reclaim his spot as an elite NBA player.

– Tommy Beer

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NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Basketball Insiders recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2019, which featured a four-point shot and a deep pool of talent in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Matt John

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game had a variety of big names to trot out on Friday night. This list included former NBA players such as Ray Allen and Jay Williams, current WNBA players Stefanie Dolson and A’ja Wilson, entertainers such as JB Smoove, Mike Colter, and Hassan Minhaj, and last year’s MVP, Quavo.

The Home Team was coached by WNBA legend Dawn Staley while the Away Team was coached by WNBA superstar Sue Bird.

Team Staley pulled ahead multiple times throughout the game, but every run they made was followed by a run by Team Bird. Team Bird’s comeback attempt fell short as Team Staley ultimately won 82-80.

Internet Comedian Famous Los led the way for Team Staley, scoring a team-high 22 points on 10-16 shooting while dishing out three assists in the team’s victory. Jay Williams razzled and dazzled as well, scoring 18 points on 8-15 shooting while dishing out five assists – including this beauty.

What could have been with Jay Williams…

Quavo topped his performance last year for Team Staley, scoring a game-high 27 points in total, highlighted by what may very well be the only five-point play to ever happen in an NBA-sponsored basketball game. Quavo shot 13-19 from the field while also corralling nine rebounds as well. Ray Allen also put up a vintage performance, putting up 24 points on 11-21 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists.

There were a few interesting wrinkles to this game. A four-point shot was implemented in which $4,000 would be donated to charity for each shot made from distance. Ten four-pointers were made in the game, totaling $40,000 in charity donations.

Two more fun facts: We didn’t even get a tip-off in this game. Comedian Brad Williams stole the ball from the ref to start it off. Also, just because it’s a harmless exhibition does not mean participants won’t get into it. JB Smoove and Hassan Minhaj got a little testy at the end of the first quarter.

Other participants included:

From Team Bird: Ronnie 2K (Director of influencer marketing, 2K Sports), AJ Buckley (Actor, “SEAL Team”), Bad Bunny (Singer), Marc Lasry (Milwaukee Bucks’ Co-Owner), Adam Ray (Host of About Last Night), Amanda Seales (Actor/Comedian), James Shaw Jr. (Hometown Hero), Brad Williams (Host of About Last Night)

From Team Staley: Chris Daughtry (Singer), Terrence Jenkins (TV Personality/Actor), Dr. Oz (TV Personality), Rapsody (Rapper), Bo Rinehart (Musician), Steve Smith (Former NFL Player), Jason Weissman (Hometown Hero)

MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars

If last year’s Rising Stars game had an overabundance of talent, this one may have very well topped it. That’s how loaded this year’s class was.

Let’s start with what could be a preview for what’s to come next year: Luka Doncic’s performance. More specifically, his connection with Lauri Markaanen. Throughout the first quarter, Doncic found Markaanen everywhere, either for easy alley-oops or wide open threes on the pick and pop.

Why bring this up? Because this is exactly what we could expect to see from Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis when they share the court together, as Markaanen has a similar skill set offensively to Porzingis’.

As for the game itself, Team USA jumped out to a 12-point lead at the half, thanks primarily to the likes of Jayson Tatum (16 points on 6-12 shooting) and Kyle Kuzma (21 points on 10-16 shooting).

Team World wouldn’t go down without a fight. In the third quarter, they managed to cut the deficit down to a point thanks primarily to Doncic and Ben Simmons’  collective efforts, but that was as close as they got. Team USA pulled away in the fourth quarter as they went on to win 161-144.

Simmons led the way for Team World, as he finished with 30 points on 14-17 shooting on a squad where, outside of Simmons, the scoring was pretty well spread out as Doncic, Markaanen, DeAndre Ayton, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rodney Kurucs, OG Annonuby, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Okogie all had 10 points or more.

Team USA had a few standouts, including Kuzma (35 points on 15-27 shooting), Tatum (30 points on 12-24 shooting), Donovan Mitchell (20 points, nine assists, seven rebounds), and Trae Young (25 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds). All were deserving of the MVP, but the award ultimately went to Kuzma.

Tonight, we go a little deeper into All-Star Weekend with the Dunk Contest, Three-Point Shooting Contest, and the Skills Challenge. Stay tuned!

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NBA Daily: Can Tobias Harris Put the 76ers Over the Top?

Shane Rhodes breaks down whether the addition of Tobias Harris can push the 76ers into the NBA Finals.

Shane Rhodes

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The Philadelphia 76ers made perhaps the biggest move of trade season when they acquired Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers. Harris, in the midst of a career year, was on the path to a lucrative contract come this summer. But, with an uncertain future in Los Angeles, Philadelphia capitalized and made their move to win now.

In doing so, the 76ers have put together, arguably, the most talented starting roster in the Eastern Conference. But what exactly does Harris bring to the team, and can he put them over the top of their competition in the East?

Harris has very much looked the part of an All-Star this season and has given Brett Brown and the 76ers coaching staff yet another weapon with which to attack defenses. The 26-year-old has posted career highs in points (20.7), rebounds (7.8) and assists (2.8) per game, field goal percentage (49.7) and three-point percentage (43.0) this season and should prove a significant upgrade over Wilson Chandler, who was sent to Los Angeles in the trade, on both offense and defense.

In a superior lineup, his Harris’ play should only improve as well.

His statistical values may dip with the move to Philadelphia, but, in a way, the team may look at that as a positive; with so many talents on the floor together, Brown, in theory, should be able to utilize Harris in order to reduce wear and tear on his other players — namely Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler — and keep them somewhat fresh for the postseason, if not at the expensive of some personal stats.

Harris is another player that can handle the ball and should lead to even more movement within the 76ers offense. He has shown over the years an ability to push the ball up the floor in transition and should relieve some of the pressure from Simmons in that area as well. In the event that he is the lone star on the floor, or should the ball movement stop, Harris able and willing to break out his do-it-himself kit; he may not dance a defender like Kyrie Irving, but he is more than capable of sizing up his man and either hitting a shot in their face or brute-forcing his way to the basket.

Harris is a more-than-capable shooter and, off the ball, should provide Simmons with another reliable perimeter outlet and open things up on the interior open things up inside for him and Embiid as well.

Defensively, Harris isn’t a wizard, but the effort and energy are there and should shine in the already competent 76ers defense. While it may not be ideal in all situations, Harris has the size to bang down low with some centers and the quickness to keep up with smaller players on the perimeter. Harris’ length — a near seven-foot wingspan — should also prove an asset, as he will allow the defense to switch on almost every possession. In the postseason, that could prove invaluable.

As good as this acquisition may look on paper, it isn’t without its cons or risks. Harris’ is another primary option on a team that already had three of them in Embiid, Simmons and Butler; could the presence of too many options bog things down a la the Boston Celtics earlier this season?

His contract situation, alongside the impending free agency of Butler, should give some pause as well.

The team has hedged its future on those two players and given up some good (and some great) assets to acquire them. Should Butler leave, Harris would provide the 76ers with the ultimate insurance policy but, should both players move on after the season it could set the team back years.

The 76ers have plenty of pre-existing issues to figure out as well, a losing record against their chief Eastern Conference competition — Milwaukee Bucks (0-1), Toronto Raptors (1-2) and Celtics (0-3) — most prominent among them.

But, with Harris in the fold, the 76ers seem to have all the pieces of the puzzle. If the players can put it all together, they could very well find themselves in the NBA Finals come June.

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Gordon Hayward Clearing Hurdles, Finding Joy In Comeback From Injury

Spencer Davies sits down with Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward to discuss the first half of his season, returning from a devastating injury and the team blocking out the noise.

Spencer Davies

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As his Boston Celtic teammates got some shots up to prepare for a morning practice in Cleveland, Gordon Hayward sat in a chair on the baseline watching.

Quicken Loans Arena held a particular place in his mind. Not because of a championship memory, nor for any individual accomplishment.

But because nearly five months after an emotional return and season debut, Hayward had come back to the scene where the course of his career shifted in an instant.

“It’s something that I was thinking about sitting in the hotel last night,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders before shootaround at The Q. “Like, last time I was here, my whole world changed. I’ll probably think about it, be a little anxious about it at the beginning when I first check in, but then when I get going it’ll be fine.”

If there was any trepidation, it was either short-lived or didn’t show. The 28-year-old looked as confident as ever, packing a powerful punch off the bench as a scorer and a distributor for a depleted Boston team. He finished with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.

“I didn’t even think about that until this morning,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Hayward’s return to Cleveland. “I thought about it in the preseason and then for whatever reason, I probably should’ve thought about it.

“I just think he has played enough now where he’s past that initial hurdle, right? So it’s probably not fun to walk out on the court the first time and shoot around and those type of things but ultimately, I think he probably moved past that really quickly. I thought he was great tonight, both ends of the court. I thought his offensive playmaking passing the ball was as good as his scoring.”

Hayward has scored 20 points or more on just three different occasions this year. It’s a far cry from the All-Star numbers he used to put up nightly. He understands, however, that perseverance is necessary as he slowly, but surely gets re-acclimated to playing.

“Physically, I’ve felt pretty good. I think I’m definitely moving way better than I was at the beginning of the season,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “I’m getting more and more confident with each month, each week. There’s definitely still games where I just don’t feel like myself, but I think I’m trending in the right direction.”

When asked about those areas that don’t feel right yet Hayward pinpointed attacking the basket, specifically going at big men in the paint, taking contact and finishing.

Knowing that he can go up, get hit and be able to come down fine is a mental hurdle Hayward admittedly still has to clear—and the only way to get past that is repetition.

“You just have to do it, and do it more than one time,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “It’s like an experience-type thing. You’ve got to just do it and feel confident doing it, and until that happens, then you’ll just keep thinking about it.”

Once Hayward is driving and dunking on a regular basis without thinking about what happens next, he says he’ll officially be back. Until then, an appreciation of being able to play the game he loves again is the true big picture—especially after an injury that could’ve taken it all away from him.

“That’s been a mental thing as well is trying to find some joy in just the fact that I’m back out on the court,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “Because some people don’t return from that and a blessing that we have the technology that we do these days that they were able to fix my ankle. So I guess just being patient with the whole thing, that’s been a challenge.”

CELTICS A WORK IN PROGRESS

Coming into the 2017-18 season, the excitement in Boston was palpable. Hayward signed a four-year maximum contract with the Celtics that summer. Shortly thereafter, Danny Ainge made a blockbuster deal to acquire Kyrie Irving, creating a dynamic duo to begin a new era of C’s basketball.

The Celtics started the campaign on the road against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Cavaliers in October. Since the storyline of the night was Irving facing off against the franchise he had won a championship with on opening night, Hayward’s debut took a bit of a back seat…until the unthinkable happened.

Less than halfway into the first quarter, Irving saw a cutting Hayward with an open path to the rim and threw up a lob looking for an alley-oop finish. Cleveland’s Jae Crowder and LeBron James came to double before Boston’s pair could connect, leaving Hayward afloat in an awkward position.

Hayward came down almost horizontally, with only his left leg there to brace himself for the fall. Tragically, he dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia simultaneously in one of the most gruesome moments in the history of sports.

As he was consoled by trainers and wheeled away on a stretcher with an air cast, the whole arena was dead silent. Players from both teams were praying in disbelief of what they’d just witnessed. Just like that, Hayward’s season was over, and even perhaps his career.

Following multiple successful surgeries and going through rehabilitation programs over the course of a year, Hayward was able to make a miraculous return to the court on October 16, 2018. He’s been on the floor for 26 minutes per night, playing in 53 of 58 total games.

Just as Hayward has tirelessly ground away to get back to form, so have the Celtics. With a healthy Irving and returning Hayward, along with the group that unexpectedly went seven games into the conference finals last year, they were supposed to be the top dog in the East.

It’s no secret that the Celtics boast an abundance of young talent. Jaylen Brown has shown plenty of growth after a shaky start to the season. Terry Rozier is on track to get paid in the offseason by a team in need of a starting point guard. Jayson Tatum is Boston’s second-best scorer (16.5 points per game) and rebounder (6.3 boards per game) at just 20 years old.

That goes without mentioning rookie center Robert Williams. Daniel Theis and Brad Wanamaker, while not quite as young, are two inexperienced NBA players who have overseas experience. The Celtics’ depth is a quality that is necessary for a deep run in the postseason.

“I think anytime they have an opportunity, they seem to make the most of it. That’s at every position,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders.

At the halfway mark headed into the All-Star break, Boston holds fifth place, locked in a battle with the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers for the three seed. The Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors each have 43 wins with over five games separating them from the trio of teams behind them.

Despite back-to-back blown leads and losses to both Los Angeles franchises at the TD Garden, the Celtics have won 12 of their last 15 contests.

“I think when we all play with energy and when we’re connected defensively – and offensively, for that matter, but especially on the defensive end – we give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “Then, when we are able to move the ball and put together games where we have 30-plus assists, that’s when we’re really tough (to beat).”

TUSSLING WITH THE MEDIA

It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, though. Early in the season, there were many things said by multiple players on the record, including some pointed words from Irving in more than one instance. These comments can be twisted and turned easily.

Add in an example: the day he told reporters, “Ask me July 1,” regarding his free agency plans, it turned into a big mess of speculation. What many people didn’t hear was Irving’s thoughts regarding the media’s spin on what was actually going on.

“This is like college recruitment for me all over again. I don’t know. This is just weird,” Irving said to the scrum of reporters in New York. “It’s a new position to be in answering all these questions, seeing all this stuff that I’m trying to avoid, and it’s just a distraction. It’s crazy how stories and things and storyline can seep into a locker room. You guys are part of the destruction of locker rooms. That’s just what it is….”

Hayward had plenty of his own thoughts on the matter.

“I mean, I think certainly all outside noise has an opportunity to put a wedge between people and between teammates,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “I think especially in today’s age where there’s social media and information is right now, all-the-time, like everybody sees what everybody says. There’s guys that are paid to give their opinions on things and, if you read into all that stuff, can definitely put a wedge in between guys.

“More than anything, just talking to people,” Hayward said of the proper remedy. “If you have an issue with somebody, just tell ’em, talk to ’em. But I think for the most part if you block all that stuff out and really just focus on yourself as a group and what the coaching staff is saying and what your teammates are saying, it’s usually better.”

FATHERHOOD IS A BLESSING

We talked about the youth Boston has already, but Hayward isn’t in that same category anymore. While it’s not that he’s old, per se, he is a nine-year man in the NBA.

Hayward considers it “weird” that he’s the veteran now. Yet, at the same time, he doesn’t mind that time has flown by because of the gift of fatherhood. The injury he sustained was absolutely devastating.

But it put things in perspective for him, and no matter what happens from here on out with his career, Hayward will always be grateful for the most important thing in his life—family.

“No doubt. I think no matter what happens on the court, my girls don’t care,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “They just care that dad’s home and they want to play hot lava and play picnic and all that stuff. Like having three healthy kids and a wife at home, those things are good.”

If Hayward’s recent play is an indication of what we’re going to see from him moving forward, he might just get the best of both worlds.

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