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 ankleboot, 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.

12 PHOTOS
Gordon Hayward since his devastating ankle injury
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Gordon Hayward since his devastating ankle injury
WALTHAM - NOVEMBER 2: Boston Celtics' Gordon Hayward meets with the media for a press conference at the team's practice facility in Waltham, MA on Nov. 2, 2017. It was the first time he has spoken to media since the gruesome injury he suffered early in his first game with the team. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
WALTHAM - NOVEMBER 2: Boston Celtics' Gordon Hayward meets with the media for a press conference at the team's practice facility in Waltham, MA on Nov. 2, 2017. It was the first time he has spoken to media since the gruesome injury he suffered early in his first game with the team. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
WALTHAM - NOVEMBER 2: Boston Celtics' Gordon Hayward meets with the media for a press conference at the team's practice facility in Waltham, MA on Nov. 2, 2017. It was the first time he has spoken to media since the gruesome injury he suffered early in his first game with the team. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
WALTHAM, MA - NOVEMBER 7: Injured Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward shoots baskets from a chair during practice in Waltham, Mass., Nov. 7, 2017. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
WALTHAM, MA - NOVEMBER 7: Injured Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward shoots baskets from a chair as Celtic legend Paul Pierce serves as ball boy in Waltham, Mass., Nov. 7, 2017. Pierce interviewed Hayward for an ESPN piece at Celtic practice. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 16: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Boston Celtics watches from the bench during the first quarter of the Celtics game against the Golden State Warriors at TD Garden on November 16, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON - NOVEMBER 16: Injured Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, center rear, sits behind teammates Jaylen Brown, left, and Kyrie Irving at the Boston bench during the first half. The Boston Celtics host the Golden State Warriors in a regular season NBA basketball game at TD Garden in Boston on Nov. 16, 2017. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
WELLESLEY, MA - DECEMBER 8: Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward watches the Boston Celtics take on the San Antonio Spurs on televisions at The Local in Wellesley, MA on Dec. 9, 2017. At left is his trainer Jason Smeathers. Hayward joined Boston Globe reporter Adam Himmelsbach to watch the game and discuss his recovery from a gruesome ankle injury in the first game of the season, his team, and his eventual return. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
WELLESLEY, MA - DECEMBER 8: Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward watches the Boston Celtics take on the San Antonio Spurs on television at The Local in Wellesley, MA on Dec. 8, 2017. Hayward joined Boston Globe reporter Adam Himmelsbach to watch the game and discuss his recovery from a gruesome ankle injury in the first game of the season, his team, and his eventual return. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 13: Boston Celtics player Gordon Hayward is flanked by Tate Ross, left and Tavadre Bailey, right, while playing a video game during a visit to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston on Dec. 13, 2017. (Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 25: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Boston Celtics speaks to crowd during game against the Washington Wizards on December 25, 2017 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 25: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Boston Celtics addresses the crowd before the game between Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards at TD Garden on December 25, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
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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.”

11 PHOTOS
Celtics' Gordon Hayward suffers horrific injury during season opener
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Celtics' Gordon Hayward suffers horrific injury during season opener
Oct 17, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (20) sits on the court after injuring his ankle during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 17: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Boston Celtics is sits on the floor after being injured while playing the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on October 17, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 17: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics reacts to his teammate Gordon Hayward #20 being injured while playing the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on October 17, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 17: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics reacts to his teammate Gordon Hayward #20 being injured while playing the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on October 17, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 17: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Boston Celtics is sits on the floor after being injured while playing the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on October 17, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Oct 17, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (20) lays on the court after injuring his ankle during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 17, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (20) lays on the court after injuring his ankle during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 17, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade (9) prays after Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward injured his ankle during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 17: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics consoles Gordon Hayward #20 after Hayward was injured while playing the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on October 17, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 17: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics reacts to his teammate Gordon Hayward #20 being injured while playing the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on October 17, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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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.

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.

21 PHOTOS
Gordon Hayward through his career
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Gordon Hayward through his career
WALTHAM - NOVEMBER 2: Boston Celtics' Gordon Hayward meets with the media for a press conference at the team's practice facility in Waltham, MA on Nov. 2, 2017. It was the first time he has spoken to media since the gruesome injury he suffered early in his first game with the team. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY - MARCH 25: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Butler Bulldogs celebrates against the Syracuse Orange during the west regional semifinal of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Energy Solutions Arena on March 25, 2010 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY - MARCH 27: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Butler Bulldogs celebrates after cutting down the net after defeating the Kansas State Wildcats during the west regional final of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Energy Solutions Arena on March 27, 2010 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Butler's coach Brad Stevens (L) and Gordon Hayward speak during a news conference about his team meeting Duke in the NCAA Final Four championship college basketball game in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 4, 2010. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
5 APR 2010: Butler teammates Gordon Hayward (20) and Shelving Mack (1) head off the court as Duke celebrates their victory following the championship game of the Men's Final Four Basketball Championship held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. Duke went on to defeat Butler 61-59 to claim the championship title. Ryan McKee/NCAA Photos via Getty Images
NEW YORK - JUNE 24: Gordon Hayward stands with NBA Commisioner David Stern after being drafted ninth by The Utah Jazz at Madison Square Garden on June 24, 2010 in New York, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
MAITLAND, FL - JULY 8: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz reacts during play against the New Jersey Nets during the 2010 AirTran Orlando Summer League on July 8, 2010 at the RDV Sportsplex in Maitland, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2010 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward (20) gets a dunk past Houston Rockets forward Greg Smith (4) during the second half of the NBA basketball game in Salt Lake City, Utah, November 19, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Oct 21, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward (20) drives to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Andre Roberson (21) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 3, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) defends against Toronto Raptors forward Terrence Ross (31) during the first half at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 6, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward (20) dribbles the ball up court against the New York Knicks during the third quarter at Madison Square Garden. Utah won 114-109. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 1, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) defends against Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) during the second half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Miami won 111-110. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 25, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) drives to the basket as Atlanta Hawks forward Taurean Prince (12) defends during the first half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Western Conference forward Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz (20) and Western Conference center DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers (6) speaks to the media during the NBA All-Star Practice at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) leads a a fast break against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeated Utah 107-100. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) shoots against Minnesota Timberwolves forward Gorgui Dieng (5) and forward Andrew Wiggins (22) with help from teammate Utah Jazz center Jeff Withey (24) in the third quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah Jazz defeated Minnesota Timberwolves 120-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
April 25, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) reacts against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half in game five of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 01: Kyrie Irving #11 and Gordon Hayward #20 of the Boston Celtics look on during their introduction as the newest members of Boston Celtics at TD Garden on September 1, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 06: Gordon Hayward #20 and Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics look on prior to the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on October 6, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 11: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on October 11, 2017 at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 17: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Boston Celtics high fives his teammates before the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 17, 2017 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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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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