The 2022-23 season was a tough one for the Charlotte Hornets, who won just 27 games and finished 14th in the Eastern Conference. But it's not all doom and gloom. They'll be buoyed this season by the return of Lamelo Ball and, after a few games, Miles Bridges, while the acquisition of Brandon Miller and the hopeful development of the likes of PJ Washington and their center pairing of Nick Richards and Mark Williams may see them develop into a sneaky competitive team.
There are a couple of players on their roster, however, who don't look likely to play a major role in that growth. With that in mind, let's take a look at a couple of the most likely trade candidates on the Hornets roster, the two of whom are in vastly different positions in terms of their respective careers.
With the exception of the 2017-18 season in which he broke his leg in the first few minutes, and the following season in which he was very much still in recovery mode from that broken leg, 2022-23 was the least productive year of Gordon Hayward's career in ten years. He averaged 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists in a little overt 31 minutes – solid enough numbers, but well down on what he was producing at the peak of his powers. At 33 years of age, his career is not on the same timeline as the Hornets, and making matters worse he's set to be pushed further down the pecking order this season.
Kelly Oubre Jr's departure opens up a forward spot for the Hornets, but unfortunately for Hayward there are two others who will already be fighting for those minutes. With the second pick in the 2023 draft, Charlotte of course picked up Brandon Miller, who they'll be keen to give as many minutes as possible in one of those coveted wing spots.
Also set to return this season is Miles Bridges. Bridges, of course, missed all of last season as a result of an ongoing investigation into an alleged domestic violence incident, and eventually a 30-game suspension was announced by the NBA. That will see him miss the first ten games of the upcoming season, but after that he'll likely find his way back into the rotation pretty quickly.
Which leaves Gordon Hayward very much on the outer. Given that they're set to pay him over $31 million, they won't be particularly keen to have him taking up space on their bench, and while that contract will mean he won't have suitors banging down the door, he is the player they will be most concertedly looking to trade.
In contrast to Gordon Hayward, Theo Maledon is somebody who hasn't exactly made a huge impact on the NBA, and rather than needing to find a team willing to take on a big contract for a serviceable but ageing player, in this case they just need to find a team willing to take him on at all.
The 22-year-old was taken with the 34th pick in the 2020 draft, and in his three seasons to date has failed to yet prove he belongs at the level. He's received decent minutes each season, and in his one year with the Hornets averaged 19.4 in his 44 games. But he struggled to do enough offensively, averaging just 6.7 points on 40.2% while dishing out 3.5 assists per game.
He did, however, finish the year strong, with a 20-point, 8-assist, 5-steal performance in the Hornets' penultimate game backed up by a 18-8-6 stat line in the last. Hopefully, that will be enough to convince a team with limited guard depth that he's worth taking on, because the Hornets have a few names ahead of him. Ball and Terry Rozier, of course, will start, while Cody Martin will come off the bench. They've also signed Frank Ntilikina in the off-season – his time to prove he's got what it takes at the NBA level is running out, but having signed him to a one-year deal the Hornets will likely give him some floor time.
But while Maledon is a potential trade candidate for the Hornets, the main priority for them will clearly be Gordon Hayward. He still has plenty to offer the right team, but clearly that team is not Charlotte, and he is by some margin their most notable player on the trading block.