Celtics

NBA Notebook: Without Gordon Hayward, what’s next for Celtics?

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Gordon Hayward was playing some of the best basketball of his career during the past few weeks, helping pave the way for a 7-1 Celtics start before he suffered a fractured left hand on Saturday night in San Antonio. There is no definitive timeline yet for Hayward's return, but Brad Stevens made it sound like a return before the end of 2019 was a realistic possibility after the game.

“No timeline," Stevens said. "He’s going to meet with the doctors tomorrow and decide if he needs to do surgery or not. Sounds like, should he decide that, the surgery option might actually be a better timeline.”

He later added: “Doesn’t feel nearly as bad as it did two years ago. He’ll be back. But he’ll be off for a few weeks, or a month, or whatever it is.”

While Dr. Flynn covered possible scenarios for Hayward's recovery with BSJ already, it feels safe to assume Hayward will be out for at least a few weeks even in a best-case scenario. That leaves a lot of basketball to be played for the 7-1 Celtics as they try to stay atop the Eastern Conference with a key piece of the lineup. How exactly will the coaching staff and front office proceed after losing Hayward, who is averaging 18.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 55.5% overall and 43.3% from 3-point range this season? A look at the big decisions looming ahead and who stands to gain bigger roles because of it.

Who starts in place of Gordon Hayward?

The obvious choice here with Marcus Smart, but that’s a slam dunk in the sense that there is a huge drop-off from a talent and reliability standpoint for the rest of Boston’s bench if he's moved into the starting five on a full-time basis. To start, taking Smart out of the bench mix would put a whole lot of pressure on Brad Wanamaker to handle primary point guard duties with the second unit. He has looked sharp in that role over the last two games but that’s a heavy burden for the second-year guard who has been up and down this season as a whole. Stevens also likes Smart off the bench as a spark plug whenever possible and given this will be a prolonged absence, keeping him in that energy role so other rotations don’t need to be adjusted as much may be an appealing option for the coaching staff.

With the C’s starting five already heavy on scoring options in Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, bringing in a role piece into the starter mix like Javonte Green for spot minutes may be an easy way to help keep the bench at full strength while allowing Green to take advantage of some easy chances on offense with opposing defenses focused on other scoring options. Semi Ojeleye has been out of the rotation lately but even he could be called on for a few minutes each half if Stevens wants to trend towards a defensive focus while keeping Smart coming off the bench.

On the other hand, starting your next best player is never a bad idea and that’s clearly Smart in this circumstance. He replaces a lot of Hayward’s ball-handling and 3-point shooting ability on the offensive end while providing first-team defense that will take some pressure off the remainder of the starting five. Without Smart, the bench rotation would feature Wanamaker, Green, Grant Williams, Rob Williams splitting minutes with a returning Enes Kanter. It’s safe to say at least two starters should be on the floor with members of that group at all times but that’s a tweak Stevens could easily make.

Starting Smart feels like the odds-on favorite, but I wouldn’t rule out a creative alternative for Stevens to keep his sixth man in place.

Who takes Hayward’s minutes?