BOSTON – In many ways, Gordon Hayward finds himself back where he was a year ago this time – and that's a very, very good thing.
Hayward, who suffered a season-ending left ankle injury just minutes into his first season with the Celtics, says he has every intention of being ready in time for the season opener with no restrictions.
"100 percent, I expect to be out there (for the season opener)," Hayward said. "This is what this time is for, to find my groove a little bit. You can do all the drills you want, all the cardio, the jumping, the agility stuff. But there's nothing like playing 5-on-5."
Hayward has been playing five-on-five for a couple weeks now, and said the biggest thing he's still working towards regaining is the ability to explode off the dribble which was one of his strengths prior to the injury.
But there's no mistaking that Hayward enters training camp in a couple weeks feeling as good as one can expect coming off such a gruesome injury.
Being healthy is one thing; having that health fully translate into strong, elite basketball play is indeed a work in progress for Hayward.
"It feels really good right now," Hayward told NBC Sports Boston's A. Sherrod Blakely. "I'm trying to work my way back as far as basketball playing."
And that more than anything else, involves repetition, improved timing with his teammates and just getting into a good basketball rhythm.
Hayward knows there is a fine line between working towards regaining his pre-injury form as a player, and not rushing the process which could potentially lead to an unexpected relapse.
"Our staff makes that really easy on me," Hayward told Blakely. "They have it all kind of mapped out; how much time they want me playing every day, how much recovery they want me to do. So I'm really trusting them. There are going to be days where I know I'm going to want to keep on playing and they'll say, ‘just tone it down a little bit.' Like I said, I'm just going to lean on them."
And in the meantime, Hayward should benefit from having a roster filled with players who, while aware of what Hayward can bring to the game for the Celtics, he won't have the kind of pressure to produce from Day One due to Boston having so many other players who have shown the ability to step in and contribute in a significant, meaningful way when their number gets called.
"It's unfortunate for me, obviously," said Hayward, referring to his injury. "But you can't teach experience. For them to go through that, also with Kyrie (Irving) going down it put even more pressure on them, more responsibility; which I think is good. I've only been in one really, playoff experience for me. So, this is going to be what, my ninth year? For them to get it in Year one, Year two and have a lot to shoulder, that was huge for them."
And his return sooner or later, will be significant for the Celtics.
Hayward has always had a great appreciation for the opportunity he has had to be in the NBA.
But after his opening night injury ended his season, Hayward is grateful for every part of the game that he gets to partake in – even practice.
"The practice sessions I didn't want to do, now I'm excited for," Hayward said. "I'm excited to be out there and be able to work, getting extra shots, getting extra work in the weight room. When you're not able to do it, you realize, ‘I kind of like this stuff.'"