Celtics star Gordon Hayward hopes to be cleared to play by the end of July

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4724/" data-ylk="slk:Gordon Hayward">Gordon Hayward</a> shared the bench with fellow rehabbing <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/bos" data-ylk="slk:Celtics">Celtics</a> star <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4840/" data-ylk="slk:Kyrie Irving">Kyrie Irving</a> during the playoffs. (Getty Images)
Gordon Hayward shared the bench with fellow rehabbing Celtics star Kyrie Irving during the playoffs. (Getty Images)

In his first extended comments since undergoing a second surgery to remove the hardware from his gruesome season-ending injury in the 2017-18 NBA opener, Boston Celtics forward said his left ankle is now “actually slightly stronger” than the right, and he could be fully cleared to play by the end of July.

In a blog post on his website entitled, “Won’t Be Long Now,” Hayward detailed the setback that derailed his rehab, which in late May was “in short order” away from “five-on-five, real basketball.”

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In much the same way a tension wire left over from a 2015 knee surgery caused Celtics teammate Kyrie discomfort, Hayward “was experiencing pain” on the outside of his left ankle due to the hardware installed in his October surgery. Doctors determined the issue was one of pain rather than strength, and together they opted to take what Hayward said was “the very rare” step of removing the hardware.

Hayward’s rehab was set back two months

The Celtics announced the follow-up procedure on May 30, five days after Hayward played one-on-one with former Indiana Pacers wing Brandon Rush in Indianapolis, three days after the Cleveland Cavaliers eliminated Boston in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals and one day after doctors ran their tests on his ankle. “So it was not quite five-on-five, real basketball,” Hayward said of his matchup with Rush, “but I was starting to ramp it up and was definitely due to get there in short order.”

By that point, Celtics coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had both already ruled Hayward out for the remainder of the season, so however short that order was, it seems near-impossible Hayward could have contributed in the Finals had Boston made it that far.

Hayward is now two weeks removed from a walking boot again, and he faces the same rehab process he began in late January — “jogging, then running, then cutting and moving” — only faster this time.

“All that could happen within one to two weeks of each other, to where by the end of July I am playing full court, five-on-five basketball,” Hayward wrote. “And that’s probably the most exciting thing I could tell all of you.”

Hayward and Irving should be in training camp

At the time of his second surgery, the Celtics pegged Hayward’s return to basketball activities at 6-8 weeks, and this timeline meshes with that one. It’s slightly more optimistic than the one Stevens gave last week, when he told The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach, “Everything is good and pointed toward being back exactly where he was — hopefully pain-free, because that plate is taken out — in the middle of July, which probably points to an early August, mid August fully cleared time frame.”

Irving told the New York Daily News he could be cleared for basketball activity as soon as “two weeks,” which would also be in line with the Celtics’ suggestion that the two rehabbing All-Stars will be “fully healthy” for the start of training camp at the end of September. Between medical procedures, both could be seen encouraging their Celtics teammates from the bench during the conference finals run.

“We go into next season with a lot of options, high expectations, and a lot of reason for optimism,” added Hayward, who lauded the development of Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. “I’ve talked with Kyrie, and I know he is progressing really well, and plans to start training hard pretty soon. We’ve both been itching to re-join these guys after watching what they did in the postseason.”

Both Hayward and Irving have made it clear they want nothing short of a title in Boston next season.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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