Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George said Tuesday after Boston's 100-99 win over the Thunder at TD Garden that he's been in touch with injured Celtics star Gordon Hayward as he recovers from an ankle injury, per Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com:
"I've been in touch with him, texting and kind of been watching him from afar, how he's been progressing. Early on, I was around him more so, sending him messages and talking to him. At this point, it looks like he's doing really well, just watching him on the court. Now he's shooting, doing a little bit on-court stuff.
"The biggest thing was just letting him know what obstacles he was going to have to face with that injury. I think it helped a bit, just helping him and giving him a heads-up of what to expect. But again, he's doing a lot better. I think at this point, he don't need me to give him encouraging words. He knows I've got his back."
Hayward, 27, has been out of action since Boston's first game this season, when he dislocated his left ankle and fractured his tibia following a gruesome fall on an alley-oop attempt against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was his first contest with the team after signing a four-year, $127.8 million contract last summer.
George is no stranger to horrific leg injuries. He broke his leg during a scrimmage with Team USA in 2014, and the injury was so devastating there were questions whether he would be the same player once he recovered. But the 27-year-old has since returned to superstar form.
Hayward's recovery has seemed to advance positively, though he recently had to slow down and scale back his rehab slightly after increasing his workload too quickly. George said he underwent the same struggles in his own recovery:
"That's one of the biggest things I told him, because I knew it was going to be frustrating, where you feel like you're getting better, you're about to turn that corner and then you're going to have some setbacks. That's part of doing so well, putting so much stress on it, that sometimes it's going to get sore, sometimes it's going to feel like you shouldn't have did something. It's all part of the process. You gotta build, go through some walls. You gotta build some confidence and trust that leg all over again. But I told him there's going to be some good days and there's going to be some bad days."
While Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has said he doesn't believe Hayward will play this season, the star forward hasn't ruled out a possible return to the court. If he were to return, it would almost assuredly be at some point during the playoffs.
With the Celtics battling through injuries to players such as Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart, however, worrying about a deep postseason run this year might not be a worthy concern, as Matt Moore of the Action Network suggested:
Hardwood Paroxysm @HPbasketball
Honestly, Kyrie getting shut down is far from worst case. You get him a full six months of recovery time. Your youngsters get thrown in the playoff fires to learn. You have zero expectations without Hayward and Kyrie, but you get home court. Get everyone back fully for year 2.
And the Celtics are likely to err on the side of caution with Hayward, a player expected to be one of the faces of the franchise in the coming years alongside Irving. Rushing him back this year isn't logical, especially if Irving's knee issues end his season.
But if George's recovery from his devastating injury are any indication, Hayward should return to form and be an All-Star-caliber player in the future.