Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics star Gordon Hayward isn’t buying into the idea that the Eastern Conference is as easy as it looks. Especially not after the mega-trade that saw DeMar DeRozan (and more) flipped to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard (and more). But the 28-year-old Hayward is buying in on the Green’s ability to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

And even win it.

“Toronto was a good team with DeMar, so with Kawhi, they’ll be just as good,” Hayward, in town for a gaming event, offered. “[Leonard] changes them a little bit. They’ll for sure be a good team. I still like our chances, and I feel like we’ve got enough to win the whole thing. He’s a guy that will add some toughness to their team defensively, a little versatility. He’s a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, so he’s always a matchup problem out there on the wing. We’ll be ready for him.”

What makes the C’s ready for Leonard and the Raps — and Giannis and the Bucks and The Process in Philadelphia, for that matter — is the Celtics’ ridiculously strong depth, according to Hayward.

“We’ve got a lot of depth. We basically signed everybody back, so we’re going to run it back. I’m very excited, very excited for what we can do as a team,” Hayward, who played all of six minutes a year ago, said. “Last year was a great year, although we had some injuries, and obviously not for me individually, but a great year for the Celtics, as far as guys getting experience in being put in situations they probably wouldn’t have been put in. That’s invaluable, so I think we’re looking up.”

Hayward also said he expects to be fully cleared and ready to go when it’s time to tipoff on the 2018-19 season.

“I’ll be ready to go for sure,” noted Hayward. “Since I’ve had my second surgery, I’ve been feeling a lot better. My ankle has reacted a lot better to different drills, strength movements and different things I’ve done on it, so the next step is go live and play against other people. Instead of just doing rehearse drills, I’m doing reactive drills. It’s doing a lot better.”

Signed to a four-year contract worth $128 million, Hayward joined the Celtics (and reunited with college head coach Brad Stevens) after establishing career-highs in points (21.9) and rebounds (5.4) per game for the Utah Jazz in 2016-17.