Reflecting on Gordon Hayward’s season with the Charlotte Hornets is challenging. It produces the same feeling as waiting in line for ice cream, getting to the front, and finding out they only have pistachio left. It’s not awful, you’ll still take it, but it’s also not what you signed up for. And in all honesty, that analogy can be used to describe Hayward’s entire time in Charlotte.
Hayward only appeared in 49 games this season. He averaged 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists while shooting 45.9% from the field and 39.1% from three-point range. His 31.9 minutes a night ranked fourth on the team, and those are pretty solid numbers for a fourth option. The only issue is that Hayward isn’t being paid like a fourth option. He’s being paid to be the star of the show.
It’s unfortunate that any conversation surrounding Hayward will always circle back to money, but it’s hard not to mention when a guy is making close to $30 million. Hayward’s contract becomes an even tougher pill to swallow when considering that he’s one of only three players to receive multiple $30+ million contracts. The other two? LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Gordon Hayward are the only three players in NBA History to sign multiple contracts worth $30+ Million per year— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) November 30, 2020
(via @axios) pic.twitter.com/IYCNaRX4yr
When healthy, Hayward is the perfect wing to put on any contending team. He can space the floor, he still has a few drops of athleticism left, he’s an amazing secondary playmaker, and his defense is still passable. The issue is, Hayward just can’t stay on the court.
Since joining the Hornets, Hayward has appeared in roughly 60% of Charlotte’s games. To put that into perspective, 40% of Haywardd’s $30 million is $12 million. That’s $12 million of dead cap space. It’s not necessarily Hayward’s fault, but his lack of availability has been a killer.
And while Hayward fits in nicely with this Hornets roster, it hasn’t translated to results. With Hayward in the lineup, Charlotte went 26-23 this season, and without him, they went 17-16. They were only marginally better with Hayward in the lineup, and that just isn’t good enough for his price tag.
If Hayward had played the entire season, this conversation might have been about how he makes the team better around the edges. How his skilled playmaking and veteran presence elevates this team to another level. But with his inability to stay on the court, that’s just not the case.
Reports have surfaced that, with Miles Bridges’ incoming extension, the Hornets could look to trade Hayward this offseason. That’s unsurprising, considering how disappointing his tenure in Charlotte has been.
Season reviews should be about how a player grew, took a step back, what they learned, or how much their role changed. The conversation surrounding Hayward just can’t be about that. If Hayward’s 2021-22 season had to receive a grade, it would earn an incomplete. And at this point, that just won’t cut it.