During the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, the Charlotte Hornets seemed to be on the ascent, as slow as their climb towards the NBA's upper echelon might have been during those campaigns. After last making the postseason in 2016, the Hornets had an opportunity to make the playoffs in both 2021 and 2022, failing in the play-in tournament in consecutive years.
Not to worry, however, for the Hornets would bring back most of their core for the 2022-23 campaign, and with All-Star point guard LaMelo Ball in town, it's difficult to envision to steep of a drop-off for the team in the Queen City.
Alas, it has been a season straight from hell for the Hornets. At the time of writing, the Hornets have put up a measly 26-53 record, which is “good” for the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference. A few surprise wins to end the season have even made the Hornets' record look much better than it really should be.
Miles Bridges' absence, warranted as it may be given the magnitude of his off-court troubles, has put the Hornets in such a tough spot. Not all teams could survive the loss of its leading scorer the year before. Certainly not the Hornets, especially after LaMelo Ball suffered the worst injury-ravaged season one could have imagined before the season even commenced.
The Hornets could, perhaps, write off the 2022-23 season and talk themselves into running it back along with the top prospect they select in the 2023 NBA Draft. But at the end of the day, facing the music and amassing more young talent could be the shrewdest move for the Hornets this coming offseason, especially when they didn't perform particularly well even at full strength.
Here is the one player the Hornets must trade away in the 2023 NBA offseason.
1 player Hornets must trade in the 2023 NBA offseason: Gordon Hayward
When the Hornets added Gordon Hayward during the 2020 offseason, Charlotte envisioned that they would get a secondary playmaker on the wing whom the Hornets could count on to create buckets for himself when the situation presented itself. However, Hayward just couldn't seem to shake off the injury bug.
At the time of writing, Hayward has missed 89 Hornets games for his career; when healthy, Hayward has had his moments of brilliance, but the more he has aged, the less it has come in prolonged stretches, only showing flashes of his past excellence as he battles a myriad of injury woes.
As a result, Hayward has put up one of his worst seasons in recent memory, suffering a drop-off in both the efficiency and volume of his production. This is not exactly a promising sign, given that Hayward is getting up there in age. In addition, this kind of production simply isn't something a struggling team would want to shell out a considerable amount of money for. (Hayward is currently making $30.1 million this season, and he will be making $31.5 million for next.)
In a vacuum, it's difficult to envision any team trading for Hayward, given his increasingly lackluster production, exorbitant price tag, and injury-proneness. The rebuilding Hornets certainly made efforts to try and dangle the veteran forward away during this past trading season, but Hayward's contract simply was too onerous of a burden to take on.
But that changes this past offseason. There simply isn't an expiring contract in the world that's too pricey to trade, making Gordon Hayward a prime candidate to find a new home this offseason as the Hornets try to pivot towards the future.
It's difficult to envision the Hornets getting much for an expiring Hayward. However, his contract should allow the Hornets to retool and add a few pieces here and there to bolster their young core, similar to when the Los Angeles Lakers dealt away the expiring contract of Russell Westbrook to fetch three pieces that helped them get back to playoff contention.
The Hornets could decide to trade Terry Rozier III as well, but he's still under contract until at least the end of the 2024-25 season. He's also a solid threat off the ball (his down 2022-23 shooting season notwithstanding), which the Hornets will sorely need if they were to try and mount a much more respectable campaign next season.
With Kelly Oubre Jr.'s status as an impending free agent, however, the Hornets could very well decide to hold on to the one of the few true wings left on their roster. But all that does is delay the inevitable. Hayward is already 33 years old, and he may not be willing to stick around for a rebuild. Come 2024, Hayward will be, more likely than not, a member of a another team. What the Hornets should do is not lose him for nothing.