Gordon Hayward Is the Problem
The Celtics do not look the same as last year, and the only real change is Gordon Hayward.
Oh, the difference a year makes. Last season, the Celtics came screaming out of the gate despite losing one of their star offseason acquisitions in Gordon Hayward. They seemingly couldn't lose. While you never want to lose one of your star players, the absence of Hayward allowed for the growth of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Obviously, your team is better with a talented player like Hayward available, but has his role changed?
Right now, the answer is yes.
Hayward, as we all know, is coming off a gruesome leg injury. He's rightfully on a minutes restriction as he works his way back to Gordon Hayward of old. The hard truth right now though, is that he still isn't Gordon Hayward of old. He's not that shifty All-Star forward that Boston signed prior to last season.
He's just not there yet, and that's okay.
What's not okay is expecting him to be that. Right now, you have a starting unit that looks absolutely lost on offense. There's an overflow of offensive talent, yet they can't seem to put the ball in the bucket. One major reason for that is there is visibly less fluent ball movement than we saw last year. The ball feels like it's sticking a bit, and no one is too sure of their role on offense.
The Celts are also lacking that versatility in the starting lineup that they had last season. Now I'm not saying that the players aren't versatile, but the lineup isn't. Last season, you could mix and match that fifth starter spot to suit your opponent. If you were up against a team with a tougher big, you could roll out an Aron Baynes to battle down low. That allowed Al Horford to slip into his more natural power forward slot. For smaller, quicker lineups you could roll out Marcus Smart or Terry Rozier to keep up. Right now, you're locked in to a lineup that includes a player still trying to find his way.
It's time for Gordie to make his way to the bench. Let him fill the role of your sixth man. He's on a minutes restriction anyway, so he's playing minutes along the lines of a reserve already. This allows your lineup to find some of that fluidity they had last season. It allows them to get a little more comfortable again. Also, just because Gordon doesn't start doesn't mean he won't see the floor with the game on the line. Maybe allowing Gordon to build some confidence from playing with and against the second unit will lead to having a better Hayward when it counts.
It's clear something needs to change, and it's unfair to expect Gordon to be what we know he will be eventually. Just shoehorning him into the starting lineup clearly hasn't helped. Move him back to the bench, and let the guys flow like they did last season and slowly ease him in. It's a nice little shakeup that should help refocus and reenergize a team that needs it.