Thunder up: OKC trades for veteran Gordon Hayward

Thunder up: OKC trades for veteran Gordon Hayward

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On the morning of the NBA trade deadline, the Oklahoma City Thunder made a huge splash for veteran guard Gordon Hayward. In the deal, OKC retain core players.

(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The Oklahoma City Thunder are killing it this season, and they just made one of the biggest moves before the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

Thursday morning, OKC acquired veteran swingman Gordon Hayward from the Charlotte Hornets, in exchange for guard Tre Mann, and forward David Bertans. The No. 1 seed in the west, the Thunder continue to make moves for this year’s playoff push.

Hayward, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, is in the last year of his 4-year, $120 Million contract signed with Charlotte in 2020. Once traded to Boston during the 2017-2018 season, Hayward suffering a season ending injury in his Celtics debut. He ultimately left for Charlotte in free agency three years later.

14 months after signing with Charlotte, the wingman alluded to that fact he wanted to “maximize” his full basketball potential. In another words, he wanted to be “the guy” in Charlotte. Talk about coming around full circle. At the time, Hayward shared the court with several high-profile athletes, including Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. Now, he will join an inspiring, loaded OKC team.

There are injury concerns

A frequent starter in every season since his rookie year, and second season in Boston, can Hayward accept his role off the bench? He’s started a total of 646 times in 809 career games, including all 25 this season. Perhaps he’s matured over the years and will embrace his new role with such vibrant, talented team. Who knows, maybe he will fit in as a starter at times.

Through 25 games this season, the 33-year-old is averaging 14.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.1 steals. The former Butler star is shooting 36.1 percent from deep, and 46.8 percent from the floor. Missing 25 games this season, Hayward has been dealing with a left calf strain. He hasn’t suited up to play since Dec. 26 vs. the Los Angeles Clippers.

There’re certainly some concerns that come with the deal. Hayward’s talent is undeniable; however, he hasn’t played over 52 games since the 2018-2019 season. In the 2022-2023 campaign, he was held to just 50 games, and had a combination of 93 games played from 2020-2022.

Why Hayward fits in with OKC

Not the same player since his ankle and knee injuries, Hayward isn’t as explosive as he once was. However, he’s still a prolific shooter, who will provide some defense behind Luguentz Dort and Jalen Williams. 13th in three-point shooting, Hayward will also bring passing and movement along the perimeter. A player that can create his own shot, the wing should provide depth behind Giddey, who can be inconsistent at times.

If healthy, Hayward could be the missing piece the Thunder need, in addition to size next to Chet Holmgren. At 6’7, the wingman will be the veteran presence for a Thunder team who’s exceptionally young. For a roster that’s the third youngest in the NBA (24.1 years old), they have certainly impressed and made headlines this season. It’s not the first time Hayward has played with a young core of players. The Hornets have several players that are 21 years and younger and sit at 10-40 on the season.

I love the fit for several reasons, one being Hayward has postseason experience. He led the Utah Jazz to the Western Conference Semifinals in 2017. As a member of the Celtics, Hayward was a key part of their run to the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat in 2020. In 29 career playoff games, Hayward put up a stat line of 15 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists. He doesn’t have a ton of experience, but it’s more than most players on OKC’s current roster.

The former ninth pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Hayward will join the Thunder, who have nothing to lose. The franchise hasn’t sniffed one bit of the playoffs since the 2019-2020 season, and now find themselves the most appealing team in the western conference.

Led by All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hayward will join a rotation that includes rookie Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey, Dort, and Jalen Williams. If healthy, they easily have one of the best top 6 in west. In fact, their current starting unit averages the fourth most total minutes (539) and remain a top five offensive team.

OKC didn’t have to give up core players

Mann is a former first rounder in the 2021 NBA Draft. Although he’s shown flashes of talent, he lost his way in the depth chart, behind Giddey and Cason Wallace. Just 23 years old, Mann is averaging 3.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 13 games played this season. Having dealt with injuries; he’s one year removed from a 67-game season with OKC. With Lu Dort injured last season, Mann showcased his shot creation and perimeter scoring abilities. At one point, he was the second scoring option behind Gilgeous-Alexander. He will become a restricted free agent in 2025.

Bertans, 31, is a nine-year NBA vet featured as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, Thunder, and now the Hornets. In 15 games played, he’s averaging 2.9 points. Not a fully guaranteed contract, Bertans has the option for early termination for next season.

Charlotte is in full rebuild mode, after trading Terry Rozier to the Miami Heat earlier this year, and now P.J. Washington to the Dallas Mavericks. An accomplished NBA player, Hayward again joins a contender and a chance to compete for an NBA Championship.

The best part about this deal? The Thunder didn’t have to part ways with any of their core players, and they don’t take on a player with a hefty salary. With a similar play style to Josh Giddey, Hayward will have impacts on role players such as Kenrich Williams, Cason Wallace, and Aaron Wiggins. A short-term wing with size is a great player for Mark Daigneault, who will now have variety of bench options.

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Sara Jane Gamelli is a full-time Sportswriter, Content Creator and Social Media Manager for Ballislife Bets. She has a focus on the NBA, WNBA, NCAA Basketball, and the NFL. Sara Jane currently resides in Connecticut/NYC area with her Cat and Dog. SJ has her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut in Economics, with a minor in business administration.

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