Just after midnight Wednesday morning, The Charlotte Observer broke the story that the Charlotte Hornets reached an agreement on a $63 million, four-year deal with restricted free agent forward-guard Gordon Hayward. Here are some things to know about the deal:
1. Hayward might not become a Hornet: Since Hayward, 24, is a restricted free agent, his former team – the Utah Jazz – will have the option to match the Hornets’ offer and retain him. Jazz officials have indicated they would match any offer another team makes for Hayward.
2. When will we know? The NBA moratorium on signings will end Thursday. Once the Hornets sign Hayward to the offer sheet, the Jazz will have up to three days to match before Hayward would go to Charlotte. Utah can take all three days, which would tie up the Hornets’ resources at a time that many major free agents will be making their decisions on where to play.
3. What would the new Hornets’ roster be if Hayward comes here?
Center: Al Jefferson. Bismack Biyombo.
Power forward: Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh. (The Hornets are talking with former North Carolina player Marvin Williams, an unrestricted player with the Jazz. He averaged 9.1 points last season and shot 36 percent from 3-point range. If he signs, he could become the starter, which would give Zeller time to develop).
Small forward: Gordon Hayward, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeff Taylor.
Shooting guard: Gerald Henderson, Gary Neal, P.J. Hairston. (Hayward also can play shooting guard.)
Point guard: Kemba Walker. (The Hornets need to sign a backup).
4. What would Hayward give the Hornets? He’s a multi-skill small forward who averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds last season. The Hornets need outside shooting and he brings that. At 6-foot-8, he has above-average height for his position, something Hornets coach Steve Clifford desires. He played three seasons in Utah with center Al Jefferson, the player through which the Hornets’ offense runs. He’s capable of the occasional spectacular game. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder during January, he scored 37 points with 13-of-16 shooting from the field and added 11 rebounds and seven assists.
5. Is he worth the money? The Hornets’ only realistic hope of landing Hayward was to offer him the maximum contract allowed under the collective-bargaining agreement. Is that more than Hayward is worth? Arguably, yes. But he’s the free agent the Hornets targeted, and their strategy is to make an offer high enough the Jazz might hesitate to match.
6. Would adding Hayward help lessen the blow of losing Josh McRoberts to the Heat? Among the things the Hornets will lose in McRoberts – ball-handling and passing from the frontcourt – are Hayward strengths. His 5.2 assists per game ranked 34th among NBA players. Only three non-guards – LeBron James (6.3), Kevin Durant (5.5) and Joakim Noah (5.4) – averaged more assists last season.
7. What’s the argument against Hayward? His field-goal percentage has fallen during each of his four NBA seasons, from 48.5 percent as a rookie to 41.3 percent last season. The Hornets would be counting on him to become their second-best player behind Jefferson, and their long-range building plans would suffer if he doesn’t.
8. Wasn’t he the guy who almost made the half-court shot to beat Duke? Hayward had a storybook high school and college careeer. He led Brownsburg High to the Indiana 4A state championship, scoring a winning basket at the buzzer to beat Marion High 40-39. He averaged 18 points and 8.4 rebounds as a senior.
He also led Butler to a runner-up finish in the 2010 NCAA championship. After beating No. 1 seed Syracuse in a regional game and Michigan State in the semifinals, Butler faced Duke for the championship. With Butler trailing 61-59 and seconds left, Hayward grabbed a defensive rebound, dribbled and then launched a half-court shot at the buzzer. The ball hit the backboard, then the rim and bounced out.
9. What does this mean to small forward Kidd-Gilchrist? As good a defender as Kidd-Gilchrist is, he’s no 3-point threat. He attempted 18 3s his two NBA seasons, making three. Kidd-Gilchrist averaged only 24 minutes as a starter last season. Keeping his minutes at roughly that next season would let him defend more aggressively, without concern about foul trouble.
The other alternative at small forward, former second-round pick Jeff Taylor, is rehabbing from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered during January.
10. Would Hayward help Jefferson? Clifford and general manager Rich Cho have said the offense will run “inside-out,” meaning the ball always should touch Jefferson’s hands in the lane on any non-fast break possession. Last season Jefferson averaged 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds during the regular season and was chosen third-team All-NBA.
The best way to help Jefferson score efficiently is surround him with shooters. Clifford often says your shooting is your spacing, as far as discouraging teams from double-teaming Jefferson.
Hayward mostly thrived in the three seasons in Salt Lake City before Jefferson left for Charlotte. Though his field-goal percentage slipped from 48.5 percent during that span to 43.5 percent, his scoring average rose each season from 5.4 points per game, to 11.8 to 14.1.
Jefferson and Hayward, by all accounts, collaborated well for the Jazz. Jefferson was expected to be part of the recruiting pitch the Hornets made to Hayward.
11. What does this mean to the Hornets’ cap room and ability to sign other free agents in 2015? The Hornets have a lot of cap space – at least about $15 million once the agreed-to trade with the Cavaliers eliminates $2 million for center Brendan Haywood from Charlotte’s books.
They will get additional cap relief once McRoberts signs with the Heat. However, they’ll likely need to sign another veteran big man and that’s not their only need; a veteran point guard to back up Walker is a must.
It’s unlikely, assuming the Hornets retain Jefferson (who makes $13.5 million per season), they’d have much flexibility in the summer of 2015, when they’d also need to address Walker’s restricted free agency.
12. What do the Hornets do next if the Jazz matches the offer and signs Hayward? It’s unclear what the Hornets would do. Other prominent wing players who could be available are Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson (unrestricted) and Houston Rockets small forward Chandler Parsons (restricted). Stephenson is strong at both the offensive and defensive ends, but he has had behavior issues that occasionally became a distraction this past season. The Rockets have indicated they will retain Parsons regardless of what else they do in free agency.