When Gordon Hayward signed a 4-year $120 million contract with Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets, most fans and analysts were quick to scoff at this massive number after three injury-riddled and inconsistent seasons playing for the Boston Celtics. For myself, his departure came with a lot of mixed feelings: I love Hayward’s style of play and wanted him to succeed in Boston, but I recognized that he needed a fresh start, and $120 million is an insane amount to pay for a player who was the Celtics’ fourth option.
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Hayward entered this season with a lot to prove. In his introductory press conference with the Hornets, he stated that he believed that he was still in the prime of his career. At the time, this could be chalked up to a professional athlete’s overconfidence regarding their own ability. After all, Hayward is 30 years old now, and has struggled to stay on the basketball court since his All-Star season for the Utah Jazz back in 2017. However, Hayward is off to a blistering start early in his Hornets career, and looks well positioned to add another All-Star appearance (if the game is played) to his resume this season.
After 16 games, Hayward is averaging a career high 24.1 points per game to go with 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He was also having a 50-40-90 shooting season before last night’s game against the Orlando Magic dropped him down to 87% free throw shooting. Oh, and speaking of the Magic, he hit the game winning layup last night to beat them.
Hayward has compiled a number of impressive performances this season as the Hornets’ first option on offense, and he has responded well. He’s already had four thirty-point games this year, which is the most since his All-Star season in 2017, and on January 6th, he scored a career high 44 points.
The Hornets are currently 7-9, and are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. As it stands, the Hornets would fall just outside of the new play-in tournament, in which the 7-10 seeds in each conference will play for the final two playoff spots for the 2021 season. With that being said, if Hayward is able to stay on the court and keep up this level of play, he has a great chance to lead the Hornets to a playoff spot.
Hayward is supported by former Celtic “Scary” Terry Rozier, the 3rd overall pick in this year’s draft LaMelo Ball, and athletic wing Miles Bridges. This is a fun and exciting young team to watch, and I personally could not be happier for Hayward and the success he has found in Charlotte. I hope that he can continue to play well for the rest of the season and remain injury free, he deserves a chance to show that he's still a great player.
Hayward received a lot of criticism for his play in Boston, but he gave his all for the Celtics, it just never worked out. He never once complained about his role while playing for the Celtics, and always worked his way back from injury, no matter how frustrating or serious they were. Injuries are a part of professional sports, but you never want to see them define a player’s career. With that being said, I hope that Hayward can keep balling for Charlotte, and that he’s still “always happy.”