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Gordon Hayward’s Second Chance

Gordon Hayward’s Second Chance

Four years ago on the first night of the NBA season, the Boston Celtics played the defending Eastern Conference champions Cleveland Cavaliers on ESPN to kick-off an exciting new season to come. Fans everywhere tuned in, expecting to see a heavy-weight bout that would hopefully end with a close finish. Instead, those who watched would see newly acquired Celtics star Gordon Hayward suffer one of the most horrific injuries in sports history.

After signing what many consider to be the worst free agency deal of the summer, Gordon Hayward is playing like the star that the Celtics and Hornets paid their money for and is making the most of his second chance in a small market.

Gordon Hayward made a name for himself before he ever landed in the league. In 2010 under head coach Brad Stevens, Gordon led Butler to the national championship where they’d lose to Duke in the final seconds, featuring Hayward’s historic missed game-winner. Hayward would be drafted by the Utah Jazz with the 9th overall pick of the 2010 draft. In seven seasons in Utah, Hayward would fly under the radar as a young and up an coming star who showed huge improvement with every season.

In those seven seasons, Hayward would help lead Utah to the playoffs twice with very little help, and in his final year, he made his first and only all-star appearance. After this season, the narrative began to shift with some when discussing their opinion of Hayward.

Playing in a small market like Utah, it’s hard for front offices to win in free agency. Superstars that could alter the course of a franchise’s history often elect to play for a big market team to add to the list of history that comes with the title. When those small-market teams are able to strike gold in the draft and mold an All-star or better yet, a superstar out of the young talent, the connection seems that much more real and important. Fans gravitate more to a homegrown star than a purchased one, and this connection I thought was very real between Hayward and Utah.

I wanted to see Hayward stay in his home in Utah. Instead, he’d do what I’d consider a sellout move, and elected to play with the fabled Boston Celtics and reunite with head coach Brad Stevens. Boy did Hayward make the wrong decision.

Not only would the Boston Celtics draft apparent superstar to be, Jayson Tatum, joining young gun Jaylen Brown on a competitive Celtics wing, but the Utah Jazz would also draft their franchise savior Donovan Mitchell that very same offseason. Also, Rudy Gobert would take that next step to the All-star level of play we are now accustomed to from him in the ensuing season.

The timing could not have been worse for Hayward. Suffering that injury would open up the door for Tatum and Brown to get way more touches than anticipated, while back in his old home of Utah, the Jazz would mold into a perennial playoff contender and make more appearances after his departure than his seven seasons there. Once Gordon returned, nothing was the same.

His numbers were down all around as well and as his efficiency and he wouldn’t really make a splash on the team until a couple of years after suffering the injury. In his final season on the Celtics, Hayward was diminished to the third/fourth option with Tatum and Brown developing into the future of the league and the acquisition of bucket getter Kemba Walker in free agency. In the regular season, Gordon would average 33 MPG on 50% from the field with 17.5ppg, 4.1apg, and 6.7rpg, and in the playoffs he’d only play in 5 of the 17 games the Celtics would play, only posting a playoff-high of 14 points.

After the bubble ended and the shortened free agency season began, the Charlotte Hornets wasted no time and shocked the league by signing Hayward to a four year 120 million dollar max contract. The Hornets are the East’s premier basement dweller and were lucky to get to the playoffs the few times they have, giving this move little sense to the viewing public. Haywards services were seen as more suited for a team in contention or close to it, not the team who earned the third pick in the upcoming draft.

Final Take:

This year, Hayward looks like the same player he was in his final season in Utah, putting his best numbers all around since, featuring 25ppg on 51% shooting. Alongside young star LaMelo Ball, Hayward is leading a rag tag group of young players to the most promising start in a while for Charlotte. Even though it would likely be in the teams best interest to lose and load up on young talent, the Hornets are currently in the midst of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and, with teams like the Heat, Raptors, and Hawks underperforming, they have such a real shot to be more than just an eight seed and could potentially push for the number 6 spot.

Hayward is making the most of his second chance in a small market and is already leading this young group to an intriguing start. With chemistry like this, this early on in the blueprint, Hayward could help take this small market to big places.


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