Gordon Hayward is almost back for real now

I was fortunate enough to catch Gordon Hayward on the phone over the weekend for a story I’m putting together later this summer (stay tuned), and I figured while I had him on the line, I’d ask him how his rehab is going. The short answer: “Really well.” The longer answer? Here that is …

Three weeks after Celtics coach Brad Stevens told The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach that all signs point to early August for the All-Star’s highly anticipated return from his gruesome leg injuryand two weeks after Hayward himself offered a slightly more optimistic timeline, the 28-year-old confirmed that he is hoping to be cleared for all basketball activities in late July.

“I’m doing really well, especially after the second surgery,” Hayward told Parquet Post. “It feels completely different in a good way, so I’m trying to gear up and get in basketball shape. Hopefully by the end of July I’ll be able to start playing 5-on-5. I’ll gear up here and do some 1-on-1, some halfcourt live basketball drills before I do 5-on-5, but I’m definitely on schedule.”

And, as you can see from his wife Robyn’s latest Instagram post, announcing their third child is on the way (three girls under 4 years old makes rehab seem easy), he’s out of his walking boot.

Seven months after Hayward underwent surgery to repair the dislocated ankle and fractured tibia he suffered five minutes into opening night of the 2017-18 season, the hardware doctors installed back in October was still causing him pain on the outside of his left ankle (much like the tension wire from a 2015 kneecap surgery caused Celtics teammate Kyrie Irving discomfort).

Hayward was playing 1-on-1 by then and was “in short order” from “5-on-5, real basketball” when he had a second surgery to remove the hardware on May 30, setting his rehab back at least another couple months. He explained the procedure in great detail in a recent blog post.

The rehab process he began in late January — “jogging, then running, then cutting and moving” — is a much quicker one this time around. “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,” he wrote on June 26. That is still the case now, and he’s on the verge of being cleared for 1-on-1 action.

“I have some teammates who are out in L.A.,” Hayward, who owns a home in San Diego, told Parquet Post of potentially partnering with his fellow Celtics before September’s training camp, “and I think once I start doing more than just drills, I’ll be able to start working with them.”

With the major players in free agency signed elsewhere, Aron Baynes returning to Boston on a two-year, $11 million deal, and all signs pointing to the Celtics matching whatever offer sheet Marcus Smart signs this summer, it seems like Danny Ainge is content running it back with Irving and Hayward returning to the same squad that took LeBron James’ Cavaliers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. They are now East favorites to reach the Finals, after all.

Little got Hayward more amped than talking about the opportunity to find out what might have happened had he and Irving been healthy. A major roster shakeup would have left a “What if?” Now they have another chance to answer it. You can almost hear him smile through the phone.

“I am more than excited,” Hayward told Parquet Post. “It was very hard for me to sit and watch the whole year, and then sit and watch the playoffs. That’s the reason I came to Boston. I saw our team before choosing and knew that we were going to have a really good chance and we were going to be good, so I’m more than excited to get back and run it back with these guys.”

That process could begin in earnest as soon as three weeks’ time.

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