The Charlotte Hornets are seemingly in a position to take a step forward and contend in 2022-23, but that may not stop them from shopping around one of their more experienced veterans.
ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported Tuesday (via RealGM) the Hornets could use one of their two 2022 first-round picks as a sweetener to trade away an expensive contract. Gordon Hayward, who's owed $30.1 million next year and $31.5 million in 2023-24, was mentioned as a possible departure.
One can argue Hayward doesn't provide on-court value that's commensurate with his salary. He has also been dogged by injuries in recent years.
Since joining Charlotte in a sign-and-trade in 2020, he has averaged 17.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists in just 93 contests.
Still, the Hornets aren't likely to be viewed in a positive light if they jettison the 2016-17 All-Star in what would essentially be a salary dump.
Miles Bridges is set to earn a big pay raise this offseason. Re-signing him will be a costly endeavor, but he's a restricted free agent with Bird rights. Charlotte can not only match an outside offer sheet but also go over the salary cap to keep him.
The ability to retain Bridges isn't contingent on lowering payroll.
A Hayward trade may not be purely financially motivated, though. On his Hoop Collective podcast, Windhorst posited a scenario in which Charlotte packages Hayward and the No. 13 overall pick for Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant.
The Hornets would save some money—Grant earns $21 million in the final year of his deal—while not sacrificing a ton of short-term value. Bridges would presumably move back to small forward while Grant takes over as the starting power forward.
Alternatively, a hypothetical swap that involves Hayward and Russell Westbrook would clear Charlotte's books in 2023 since Westbrook is on an expiring contract.
Sam Quinn @SamQuinnCBS
If Charlotte would rather give up a top-15 pick to dump Gordon Hayward than take Russell Westbrook, someone needs to be fired.<br><br>If the Lakers would rather pay Russ $47 million for one year than Hayward $61 million for two, EVERYONE needs to be fired.<br><br>That is the sensible trade. <a href="https://t.co/YVSIJOZyEg">https://t.co/YVSIJOZyEg</a>
Depending on the asking price, contending teams should jump at the chance to land Hayward. The injuries are a concern, but he remains an effective all-around offensive player. He shot 45.9 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc last season.
The 32-year-old would be a nice fit as a secondary scorer on a roster that lacks proven wings.