As we draw ever nearer to the 2024 NBA Trade Deadline, we have something of an unexpected deal: the Charlotte Hornets have traded Gordon Hayward to the Oklahoma City Thunder, per Adrian Wojnarowski. The Thunder will send Tre Mann, Vasilije MicicDavis Bertans, and draft compensation back to Charlotte.

NBA Trade Deadline: Thunder Make Move, Acquire Veteran Forward At Trade Deadline

Charlotte signed Hayward to a four-year, $120 million contract in the summer of 2020. Since his signing, his inconsistent play combined with the Hornets’ status as a non-contender made him a constant subject of trade talks. His consistent injury issues have hampered his production dating back to 2017, leading CBS Sports to denounce Hayward’s Hornets contract as “one of the worst in recent memory.” The criticism may have been valid – Hayward hasn’t played more than 50 games in any full season since his signing.

Hayward has, however, been productive when he is playing. He’s shooting 36% from three and has been a jack-of-all-trades for an awful Hornets squad.

Per Marc Stein, Hayward was happy to stay in Charlotte. He reportedly would not have sought a buyout had he stayed, and told SI in 2022 that he and his family “love the city of Charlotte.” A deal at the trade deadline was nowhere near a certainty.

The 34-year-old Hayward is averaging 14.5 points per game alongside 4.6 assists for the Hornets. His spotty availability has limited him to just 25 games, but he averages nearly 32 minutes when he does play.

Why Do The Thunder Make This Move?

The math in acquiring Hayward is obvious for Oklahoma City. He’s a talented, experienced veteran who provides them with depth and versatility. His admittedly large contract also doesn’t figure to be an issue, as it expires at the end of the season, giving the Thunder the chance to sign him on the cheap or clear his money off the books. The Thunder are competitors in the West and looking to win now. Shipping three fringe players for a proven, steady veteran gives them the opportunity to do just that. The Thunder also shrewdly acquired talent without having to dip much into their treasure chest of draft picks, leaving the door wide open for additional moves. It’s a low-risk, high-reward deal if Hayward can stay healthy.

The first-seeded Thunder probably don’t make themselves championship favorites with this move. However, adding talent for cheap is never a bad thing, and Hayward can help take them deep into the playoffs. He’ll shoulder some of the load for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and he can take minutes away from the struggling Josh Giddey. His size makes him a capable 1 through 4 defender, adding to an already stingy Oklahoma City defense. Additionally, his already decent shooting numbers figure to go up playing in a talented offense. He fits the Thunder well and should be a welcome presence in the rotation.

Why do the Hornets make this move?

For the Hornets, getting off Hayward’s contract is a nice opportunity to free money while acquiring assets. His status as an expiring contract limited his value, although Charlotte did well to get something before this offseason. Incomers Tre Mann, Vasilije Micic, and Davis Bertans are intriguing. The 31-year-old Bertans has played sparingly for a young Oklahoma City team, but the forward has made 42% of his threes. Whether he stays in Charlotte through the trade deadline is uncertain – an additional deal or a buyout is a real possibility. He should have suitors, and the Hornets could feasibly grab an additional pick or two for him. The 22-year-old Mann has also seen limited minutes this season but showed flashes in his first two seasons in Oklahoma City. His age and high-energy playstyle make him a great fit for a Hornets team searching for talent and identity. Mann figures to slot into a rotational role behind LaMelo Ball, giving him a real opportunity to prove himself. First-year guard Micic has shown occasional flashes, but his fit in Charlotte is unclear. His age (30) makes him unlikely to be part of the Hornets’ long-term plans.

Trading Hayward (rightfully) signals a willingness to dive back into a rebuild and chart a new route to contention. The Hayward contract should serve as something of a lesson to Charlotte. It was an obvious overpay at the time, and the presence of a highly-paid veteran on a rebuilding squad likely robbed some players of developmental minutes. Because his contract was so large, they couldn’t extract much in the way of value for him. His time in Charlotte will ultimately be synonymous with mediocrity, at best, and ended with the Hornets sitting at 10-40. Dishing out big contracts to past-their-prime vets on a rebuilding team is rarely an effective way to build a team.

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