BOSTON – With the Utah Jazz in town, a familiar face in Al Jefferson has now been replaced by a familiar face to Celtics coach Brad Stevens in Gordon Hayward. After starring for Stevens at Butler, Hayward has gone on to become one of the most promising swingmen in the league and, more importantly, a restricted free agent this summer.
A week after Hayward failed to agree to an extension with the Jazz, rumors of a Butler reunion in Boston began to take over the NBA blogosphere. While the logistics of that reunion are tricky, there is no question that the love is still there between Hayward and his former coach.
“Well, he’s just a great guy, number one,” Hayward told reporters before the game. “I loved what he stood for as a person and treated everyone that he recruited as family. I loved that about it.
“It was a family atmosphere first and foremost. And then obviously, the basketball was pretty great as well. He’s a good coach and I liked what he stood for.”
Stevens essentially said the exact same things about Hayward, complimenting his development as an NBA player. “First of all, he’s a really good player and he’s gotten a lot better since I coached against him. He’s put on a lot of weight and can create his own shot.
“He can go right. He can go left. He’s good. He’s good. And I know what his makeup is and that’s the highest level. When you’re talking about all that stuff, that’s a pretty good player.”
Stevens has exhibited an even-keeled and calm demeanor despite losing nearly every game with the Celtics thus far. Hayward attributes this to his leadership skills.
“I mean, he’s just always calm,” Hayward said. “No matter what situation you were in, he just knew what we needed to do and communicated that extremely well. As a player, when your leader is calm and collected, it kind of makes you relaxed as well.
“I believe he was able to be so calm because of the preparation he did before. He was always prepared and he taught us to be prepared too.”
That’s not to say that Stevens never showed his angry side. “He kicked us out of practice a couple times when we weren’t doing things the right way,” Hayward said. “He is extremely detail oriented and when you’re not focusing on those details, he gets pretty upset about that.”
While a Hayward-Stevens pairing seems like a match made in heaven, the likelihood of the Celtics outbidding the Jazz seems unlikely since he is a restricted free agent and the Jazz have cleared out plenty of cap space. For now, the biannual lovefests will have to do.