Five lessons learned from the Celtics playoff run

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Before we fully turn the page to a critical offseason for the Celtics, some parting thoughts on the Celtics' trip to the Eastern Conference Finals...

1. Gordon Hayward’s value was magnified: The Celtics didn’t need him to get past an undermanned and dysfunctional Sixers team but they nearly blew a 2-0 series lead without him against the Raptors, before self-combusting in the fourth quarter during four of their six games against the Heat. Hayward returned in Game 3 against Miami after a five-week layoff but his play declined with every game in the series as he wasn’t close to 100 percent after a premature return, according to a league source. More rehab was required to properly strengthen the ankle but the Celtics and Hayward didn’t have time to wait any longer once the team fell into a 2-0 hole against Miami. Hayward gave it a shot but he wasn’t able to sustain solid contributions in Game 3.     

Hayward will opt into a $34 million player option for next season in the upcoming weeks but his long-term future in Boston is a big question mark giving the high-priced contracts that Tatum, Brown and Walker will have through the next 3-5 years. The easy solution for the Celtics now would be to simply run it back with this group and try to put together more complementary pieces around them. However, it’s now been three straight years where Hayward has not been at his best in the postseason due to bad health luck. The Celtics clearly needed Hayward to be at their best (the C’s played their best basketball in the bubble seeding games with him on the court) and could have used him at 100 percent against the Heat zone to settle the group down offensively, especially in late-game situations. Danny Ainge assuming this team would be healthy enough when it mattered based on their track record this year was a mistake and it came back to bite when it mattered. While Hayward is highly overpaid for his role on this team, it’s hard to see him drawing anywhere close to an equal return in a trade if the C’s were going to explore the market. The challenge in 2021? Hope Hayward avoids bad injury luck when it matters and have better depth available to fill in when he’s not.

2. It’s too bad Romeo Langford wasn’t healthy enough to get a chance against the Heat: Like Hayward, the rookie swingman was snakebitten with injuries all season long, barring a couple of rotation chances midway through the season. His defense was where he stood out all year long and after watching Brad Wanamaker get repeatedly burned against the Heat’s shifty shooters, it would have been intriguing to see Langford get more of a shot in that spot for select bench minutes to see if he could hold his own. A groin injury just one minute into his only stint against the Heat took away that opportunity while a torn wrist tendon kept him from being 100 percent during the entire. Langford's surgery to repair that wrist ligament will keep him from entering next season at full strength according to Brad Stevens (barring a very delayed start to the year). The No. 14 overall pick won’t have a lot of pressure on him when he enters year two since he is still pretty far down the wing depth chart but he will open up a lot of flexibility for the C’s if he makes a leap into a consistent rotation player in year two. His next step will be turning into an efficient weapon offensively after gaining more on-court comfort with his revamped shooting form (35% FG, 19% 3pt). That will be a challenge coming off of a wrist injury this offseason but if he turns into reliable wing depth in his sophomore season, that will open the door for the C’s to address other areas of the roster with their remaining assets in-season.

3. Brad Stevens took a step forward in postseason but there is work to do: