Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving wants Gordon Hayward to take his time recovering from a fractured ankle with eyes toward what the team can accomplish when Hayward is back at full strength.
"I don't want him to rush back. We need him for years to come," Irving said during an appearance on ESPN's "The Jump" on Friday from All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. "It would be great if he came back this year. Hell, I miss him so much. He knows that. I just want him to do what's best for him."
What might be even more intriguing is how Irving referenced "years to come" in regard to a future with Hayward and the Celtics. Irving, who is the third-highest paid Celtics player this season while earning $18.9 million, can opt out of the final year of his current deal after the 2018-19 season, at which time he could explore a long-term extension with the Celtics.
It might have been a hint that Irving currently envisions a long-term future in Boston. But what's more definitive is that Irving's more immediate focus is on getting the young players on the Celtics' roster back on track after the All-Star break.
The Celtics stumbled into the All-Star break while losing three in a row and nine of their past 15 overall. Boston is now in second place in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Toronto Raptors.
"My job as one of the leaders on the team is to lead by example but also through communication," Irving said. "With the young guys that we have on this team, the second half of the season is something new for them. It's a level that you have to get to and you have to prove to yourself that you have an extra gear. Other teams are gearing up for the same thing and there can only be one winner.
"Honestly, you want to be best prepared, mentally and physically for what's to come. For me, I'm just loading up all the ammo that I need to go out and raise my level and it's my job to convey that to my teammates and echo that confidence to them. This is a new role for me, it's just constantly learning, consistently learning how to best communicate to my teammates.
"As you can see, I've been thinking about it a lot. This All-Star Weekend is enjoyable for the first two days or so, then after that you're ready to get back and get ready for the war. That's as simple as I can put it."
How can Irving instill that message in a Boston roster that has utilized seven rookies this season?
"See that's the challenge," Irving said. "It's well worth it if you can figure it out. You go in with a mindset of teaching them that mentality of kill or be killed. You really have to have that perseverance, you have to have the intent that you're going to go out and compete for one another and, more importantly, for yourself. You have something to prove and we have the young guys to do it, as well as other guys on the team. It's my job, along with other leaders on the team, to really get that message across."
During his appearance, Irving promoted his upcoming feature film, "Uncle Drew," sounded open to the idea of televising the All-Star draft in future years, and admitted he's eager to compete in this year's revamped All-Star format where he'll play for Team LeBron.
Given Boston's success this season, Irving was asked to make the case for Brad Stevens for Coach of the Year -- and made another reference to a long-term future in Boston.
"Oh man, well that's easy. That guy is so diligent and strategic in his approach," Irving said. "His preparation, how he prepares us -- he gives us an incredible game plan, gives us great schemes. He has an ability to adjust on the fly. This has been a learning experience for him as well, having this group.
"So it's something unique and I think that we'll relish in the opportunity to get to know one another over this year and hopefully a few years to come."