In the latest step in his recovery from a fractured ankle, Hayward got the OK from his doctors to go boot-free Wednesday. Wearing just a small brace on his left ankle, Hayward was able to walk without an aid at a community event at the Boys & Girls Club of Boston.
"The process is always fluid and can change at any time, but, for me, today was the day where I walk around without the boot at all," Hayward told ESPN before giving a motivational speech to a group of teens and playing the video game Destiny 2 with them. "And so, I'm going to try to move forward without the boot. Depending on how my foot reacts, how much activity I'm able to do on it without it being sore, I could move back into the boot or I could never look back and never see the boot again.
"I'm just taking it day by day; today has been awesome so far without the boot."
In recent weeks, Hayward has graduated from shooting out of a chair to shooting flat-footed in his boot. Each step in his recovery stokes questions about whether he might be able to return this season. For his part, Hayward has said he is simply focused on each day and eager to see where that leads him.
"I think I'm a goal-oriented type of person. So I set my sights on a [short-term] goal and just focus on that until that goal is completed," Hayward said. "I have a great group of people around me; the Celtics' staff has been phenomenal, accommodating to everything that I need. My trainer [Jason Smeathers] is here, my wife [Robyn] at home, everybody is keeping me motivated and making sure that I'm sticking with protocol. It's definitely like a team thing for me. I have a lot of people that are helping me. That makes it easier."
The Celtics have maintained that they do not expect Hayward back this season, but Boston coach Brad Stevens said the team will not put limitations on what he tries to do. Stevens has made sure that Hayward has scheduled times for shooting and treatment each day, much like the other players on Boston's active roster.
The Celtics also hang Hayward's No. 20 jersey in his locker stall before games, another small reminder that he remains a part of the team.
Hayward said the daily shooting and rehab routine has helped him concentrate on the recovery process.
"I think it really helps with the routine. It gives me something to track, to look at and says, 'OK, this is my schedule for the week, this is what I'm going to do each day,'" Hayward said. "It allows me to kinda keep moving forward. That's been good."
Before Boston's game Wednesday night against the Denver Nuggets, Stevens was asked about Hayward getting out of the boot.
"It's another box to check," Stevens told reporters. "There's a big difference between getting out of the boot and playing in an NBA game, though. So he's got a long way to go. But it's good that he has these things as goals, and he keeps checking them off. And he's working really diligently at it. And he feels good about that. So that's a good thing."
Hayward, who joined the Celtics courtside for a Nov. 16 home victory against the Golden State Warriors, expects to be around the team at games more frequently as he gets healthier. Stevens said he believes it will be a while before Hayward joins the team on road trips.
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