The Charlotte Hornets have been mired in NBA purgatory for years. For six consecutive seasons they finished between 9th and 11th in the Eastern Conference, before last season dropping to 14th with just 27 wins. That disappointing 2022-23 season, however, did help them to secure Brandon Miller, adding to the quietly growing compilation of talent they're putting together in Charlotte.
With a number of players having missed a lot of time last year, there are multiple guys who started the majority of their games who will likely struggle to break into the starting lineup in 2023/24. A returning Lamelo Ball and Terry Rozier are likely to occupy to the two backcourt spots, meaning that it's on the wings where there will be the most competition. Brandon Miller will be hoping to snatch a starting spot there, but he'll need to beat two of PJ Washington, Gordon Hayward and Miles Bridges once he returns from suspension to get there.
Assuming a healthy roster, a couple of those four players will presumably be coming off the bench more often than not. It's hard to see that being PJ Washington, at least initially with Bridges out, given he just signed a three-year deal worth $48 million with the team. Once Bridges returns the competition for those two spots will be even greater, and there's one player who appears most likely to finish last in the race.
It's not ideal for a team to start a player who they're paying over $30 million over the course of the season on the bench, but that may be the situation in which the Hornets find themselves. The reality is, and has been for multiple years, that Hayward doesn't even remotely fit into the demographic of the Hornets roster. They're young, long and athletic – Hayward is none of those things.
That's certainly not to say he has no role to play. A veteran presence on a young roster can often be of significant benefit, and at 33 he still has something to offer in the NBA. But there's no doubting that his on court performance is beginning to slowly dwindle. After averaging 19.6 points per game in his first season with the team – pretty much in line with what he put up in his last few years with the Jazz – he dropped to 15.9 in 2021-22 and then 14.7 last season, which was his lowest number since 2012-13, excluding his first season for the Celtics in which he played five minutes before breaking his leg in two, and the next season in which he was still very much a shadow of his former self in returning from that injury.
He still had his moments last season, but those moments are not exactly what the Hornet need at this point in their development. They need minutes in the legs of the players who will determine their future, and their win/loss record isn't necessarily going to be the primary metric by which the upcoming season is judged.
Hayward has been included in numerous recent trade discussions for good reason. He doesn't fit into what they're doing, and at over $30 million per year he is a player they would have no qualms with unloading. He certainly still has something to offer a team which is a little closer to competing, but at that price tag finding a suitor may not be the easiest of tasks. For the time being, Hayward is a Hornet, and for as long as that remains the case he may well be a Hornet coming off the bench.