So far, Gordon Hayward has been worth the four-year, $120M contract he signed with the Charlotte Hornets last offseason.
The expectation was that Hayward would provide a veteran presence in the locker room that doubled as one of the team’s most talent players on the court, and to this point, he has. He started the year off on a tear, with his percentages hovering near the renowned “50/40/90 Club” range for much of the first half of the season. Prior to LaMelo Ball’s emergence, he was the best scorer and playmaker in the Hornets’ starting lineup, and the offense suffered greatly in his absence once he went down with a foot injury in April.
Missing 28 out of 72 games was certainly not ideal, but in a condensed season that saw many players get injured or undergo extended rehab, it’s not all that surprising, and it seems Hayward’s reputation as an “injury prone” player has become slightly overstated. Since he was sidelined for all but six minutes of the 2017-18 season, he’s missed 10, 20, and 28 games in each respective season. It’s not a little, but it’s not all that much for a 30-plus year-old forward that also played in 29 playoff games with Boston — and in his final season there, he came back early from a sprained ankle and missed the birth of his son to get back and help the Celtics with their playoff run in the bubble. There’s something to be said for that.
Both Hayward and Borrego have spoken about plans to manage Hayward’s workload throughout this season in order to ensure he’s playing his best basketball at the end of the season. With the NBA’s return to a full 82-game slate, it’ll be important for veterans across the league to manage their bodies and Hayward is no different; the Hornets were not afforded the luxury of resting players with subpar roster depth last season, but with Kelly Oubre Jr. in house, Hayward can play fewer minutes or take nights off earlier in the year.
To me, 60-65 games played with box score and efficiency numbers similar to last season is a fair ask from Hayward. Anything less than that would imply a serious injury as opposed to load management, and when healthy we’ve seen how well his style of play meshes with Ball, Rozier and all of the young Hornets. An elite mid-range shot-creator with size, strength and veteran craft, Hayward is the release valve for Charlotte’s halfcourt offense and remains the best isolation scorer on the roster.
The Hornets are not in a position where they’ll “go as far as Hayward can take them,” which is actually why acquiring him was a smart move on the part of the front office; they correctly predicted Ball would become a potential franchise-changer, and instead of a small-market team hoarding massive amount of dollars in the name of “cap space,” they invested in a borderline-All-Star that can be a No. 1 option when they need him to be, and then slowly transition into a second or third-option as he ages and the young core develops.
Charlotte will go as far as Ball can take them, now and years to come; it’s all about how Hayward can help guide the young star along the path to Eastern Conference relevancy.