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Hornets to sign Gordon Hayward, waive Nic Batum for salary cap space

Hornets to sign Gordon Hayward, waive Nic Batum for salary cap space
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Free-agent forward Gordon Hayward has come to terms with the Hornets on a four-year, $120-million (U.S.) deal. Per an NBA source, the Hornets will create enough cap space to sign Hayward by waiving Nic Batum. The Hornets will then use the NBA’s stretch provision to spread cap implications of Batum’s $27-million salary over three years.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the Hornets’ agreement with Hayward on Saturday afternoon.

Hayward enters his 11th NBA season with career averages of 15.3 points and 4.4 rebounds. The 30-year-old, six-foot-seven forward fills an obvious hole for the Hornets: a primary scoring option and a secondary ballhandler. The Hornets have always been attracted to his skill set; they signed him to a maximum offer sheet in 2014, when he was a restricted free agent, that the Utah Jazz matched.

This is the biggest free-agent signing for the franchise since at least since 2013, when the then-Bobcats added centre Al Jefferson, who went on to an all-NBA season in Charlotte.

The current Hornets coaching staff has an immediate connection with Hayward: Assistant coach Ron Nored was a college teammate of Hayward’s at Butler. Hornets owner Michael Jordan personally made a recruiting pitch to Hayward late Friday night, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe.

Hayward took the bold step of opting out of the last season of his contract with the Boston Celtics. He gave up a guaranteed $34-million salary at a time when only four NBA teams — one of them the Hornets — started free agency with any cap space.

Hayward’s role with the Celtics shrunk somewhat the past two seasons with the emergence of young wing players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. He has also gone through injuries — a gruesome fracture and dislocation in his left leg in 2017, and an ankle sprain in August that cost him a month of the NBA restart.

When then-general manager Rich Cho recruited Hayward to Charlotte in 2014, the word “connector” — as in a playmaker for himself and others — was used constantly to describe Hayward’s value. The Hornets are young and starless after they didn’t re-sign all-NBA point guard Kemba Walker after the 2018-19 season. Walker is now with the Celtics.

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak frequently says this team’s greatest need isn’t positional, it’s collective talent. Kupchak has added two major pieces in four days: The Hornets used the third overall pick in Wednesday’s draft to select point guard LaMelo Ball.

Shooting and ball-movement both rival rebounding as the Hornets’ biggest flaws. Hayward shot 37 per cent from three-point range last season and averaged 4.1 assists.

Hayward has played both small and power forward for the Celtics. The Hornets have started Miles Bridges at small forward the past two seasons, which has been an awkward fit. Bridges’ best NBA position long-term might be as a small-ball power forward.

A potential Hornets starting lineup could be: Ball and Devonte Graham in the backcourt, Hayward and P.J. Washington at forward and Cody Zeller at centre.
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