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There’s no ideal time to lose a talent of Gordon Hayward‘s caliber, but with their loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the rearview, the Boston Celtics must prepare for a season that may not include him at all after he dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia Tuesday.
It’s not yet known how long it’ll take Hayward to recover from the gruesome injury, but it’s safe to assume the 27-year-old will be out for at least several months, and possibly the entire 2017-18 campaign.
That sends Boston back to the drawing board. Here are three ways Hayward’s absence will impact the team.
Will Celtics use the Disabled Player Exception?
There’s a chance Boston could look to apply for the league’s Disabled Player Exception, as long as the team does so on or before Jan. 15 and then uses it no later than March 10. Obviously, this would depend on the severity of Hayward’s injury.
The exception would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to either sign, claim, or trade for a player with one year remaining on their contract, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Teams that receive the DPE are compensated the lower figure of either the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (the $8.4 million), or 50 percent of the injured player’s salary.
Of course, that doesn’t replace Hayward by any stretch of the imagination, but it would soothe the blow ever so slightly.
More onus on Kyrie Irving to score
This isn’t what Irving was expecting when he joined the Celtics, but it’s the situation he’s in now.
When he was shipped off to Boston in August, Irving knew he was joining a roster with two proven All-Stars in Hayward and Al Horford. After Tuesday’s 102-99 loss at Quicken Loans Arena, though, the Celtics’ Big Three is down to a dynamic duo.
Irving knows how to put the ball in the basket, and now he’ll be called upon to do so even more. He’s certainly capable of it, but he’ll also need to serve as both a facilitator and playmaker who can elevate the games of those around him. Irving wanted the spotlight, and without Hayward, it just got a little bit brighter.
Young players need to grow up fast
Boston won’t fall out of the playoff picture, but if the Celtics want to remain in the top half of the Eastern Conference, the likes of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and even rookie Jayson Tatum have to consistently be key contributors on both ends.
So far, so good. Brown led the way in scoring with 25 points in 40 minutes against Cleveland, while Tatum notched a double-double in his debut with 14 points and 10 boards. Smart, on the other hand, had 12 points and four steals coming off the bench, but took 16 shots to get there.
Keeping the ship afloat will require a group effort. Boston had aspirations of challenging LeBron James and Co. and possibly reaching The Finals for the first time since 2010. In a perfect world, the team’s young pieces – Brown and Tatum, in particular – would be brought along at a reasonable pace. The Celtics no longer have that luxury.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)