Gordon Hayward almost fully healed, vows to be even better in his second season in Charlotte

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Gordon Hayward is ticked he was in an all too familiar position these last few weeks, relegated to mere spectator status.

“Yeah, it sucks,” Hayward said Wednesday. “It’s one of the hardest things to do, is sit there on the sideline and feel like you can help but are just not physically able to. It’s something that I’ve certainly dealt with over the past two, three years here. It’s good that on the one hand I’ve been through much, much, much worse and I’m not worried about this one at all. I’ll be ready to go and I’m going to have a great offseason.

“But it’s frustrating to sit there and kind of just watch. So very disappointing with that, but also on the other hand it gave some guys some opportunities that might not have been there and those are really important for some of our young guys. You can’t really teach experiences. You’ve just got to go through them and I thought we gained some valuable experiences."

Hayward missed the Charlotte Hornets' final 25 games after spraining his right foot April 2 in Indiana. He said the original timetable he was given for the injury was between 6-8 weeks and Friday represents the eight-week mark. He said he’s almost there with everything he needs to show strength- and movement-wise before he fully gets back on the court. 

He doesn’t anticipate any issues getting in the amount of work he has planned during the summer.

"I think I’m going to have a great offseason," Hayward said, "and be better than what I was this year next year."

Inked to the mega four-year, $120 million contract in November, Hayward played well for the most part when he was on the floor, providing the Hornets with another facilitator, veteran presence and someone to help them in the clutch. He increased his numbers from his career averages in the essential categories, posting 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. He nailed 47.3 percent of his shots, draining 41.5 percent behind the 3-point line and 84.3 percent from the free throw line.

However, Hayward appeared in only 44 of their 73 games and had to watch things unravel during their six-game losing streak to conclude the season, powerless to do anything about the downward spiral.

"Definitely disappointing, very frustrating with everything that happened toward the end of the year," Hayward said. "I felt like we were in a really good place before I got injured. It’s always tough to have to sit there, as I know better than anyone the last coupe of years. But I think we are headed in the right direction. I had a tremendous amount of respect for J.B. (coach James Borrego) and the staff. I thought they did a great job this year. It was fun playing basketball and I’m really excited where we can go from here.

"We had our ups and downs this year. We beat some of the best teams in the league, we lost to some teams we probably should have beaten. But like I said I think we are headed in the right direction. I like where we are going and I think it’s going to be a great offseason for me and a lot of the other guys, too. A chance to really attack this offseason and be ready to go."

Speaking of the offseason, the Hornets will likely look a little different in 2021-22 given the number of free agents they have. Hayward's arrival surprised many people -- GM Mitch Kupchak among them -- and it's going to be interesting to see if his decision to come here slowly leads to others picking the Queen City as their destination.  

"I definitely trust Mitch, and the front office and J.B. with what they want to do from a roster standpoint," Hayward said. "I think the way that we played this season turned a lot of heads and made a lot of guys want to be a part of that. Certainly, I’ll be able to try to go out and help recruit some people, too, and tell people we play fun basketball here in Charlotte. We move the ball, we’ll be up and down fast and it’s exciting and we’ve got a bright future. So yeah, hopefully some guys will want to jump on that train.”