CHARLOTTE, NC – Hornets owner Michael Jordan and general manager Mitch Kupchak had no plans to spend this off-season money on a major free agent.
But things quickly changed when Gordon Hayward canceled his contract with the Boston Celtics.
The prospect of getting a gaming wing – something Jordan has longed for for years – proved too intriguing to ignore, prompting the Hornets to deviate a bit from their established plan to develop young players and the 2017 All-Star pursue.
“I didn’t think we would be able to pursue a free agent of Gordon’s caliber,” Kupchak said during a video conference on Tuesday. “… It looked like Gordon was going to be a free agent next year, and based on how we felt our team was positioned, we might have chosen to chase him next year. But he shut it down. When he signed out and we quickly found out that we were in the picture, we quickly started the recruiting process. ”
Kupchak said Jordan was “very involved” in that process.
The six-time NBA champion texted Hayward and called him twice, hoping to lure him to Charlotte as a limited free agent six years after giving him a $ 64 million four-year quote sheet that eventually rivaled the Utah Jazz. The quotation sheet, Hayward said, meant a lot to him.
“He texted me he wanted me for years,” Hayward said. “… He just said he would really love to have me here in Charlotte and he thinks I can make a huge difference and have a big impact in helping this team and making a difference. So that was the main message: help us get to that next level. ”
Despite the phone calls from Jordan and great pressure from the Hornets, Kupchak said he still didn’t feel good landing Hayward when Free Service began. But as the first day of the signing period began, talks with Hayward’s agent quickly heated up, and the result was a four-year $ 120 million contract with a congratulatory phone call from Jordan.
Hayward, who averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last season, said the decision to forgo his deal with the Hornets was not so much about his role with the Celtics, but about the plot to help Charlotte create a winning franchise.
The Hornets have not made it to the playoffs in any of the past four seasons and have not won a playoff series since 2012.
“The more and more conversations I had with the tech staff and with some front office guys, the vision they had, the impact they think I can have, to take us to the next level – that was very powerful. to me, ”said Hayward.
Hornets coach James Borrego is buzzing with excitement about the addition of Hayward and No. 3 overall draft pick LaMelo Ball, players he considers excellent big-sized playmakers.
He can’t wait to get the 6-foot-7 tandem to the ground Friday, when the Hornets have their first team practice from training camp.
“I just didn’t expect him to leave such a legendary franchise,” said Borrego.
Hayward sustained a significant injury in 2017 when he fractured his shin and dislocated his ankle in his first game with the Celtics. Last year, he injured his ankle while Boston played in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida and was relegated to play most of the postseason.
But Kupchak said Gordon passed the team’s physical examination “with flying colors.”
The GM also has no problem that Hayward is 30 years old, saying the former Butler star is “in the prime of his career.”
The Hornets acquired unprotected second-round draft picks from the Celtics in 2023 and 2024 as part of Hayward’s sign-and-trade deal. They gave up a protected second round next year, which will only go to Boston if Charlotte shocks the NBA world and finishes in the top five of the league.
“He is a bona fide starter in this league and we are pleased to add him not only to a position of great need, which is a real wing, but we are also delighted with his leadership and stability in the locker room,” said Kupchak. .
Kupchak said the addition of Hayward and their draft picks leave the Hornets about $ 4 million below the NBA salary cap this year and an expected $ 27 million for next year, despite the decision to renew Nicolas Batum’s contract, who became Sunday. apart.
“We’re in a good place,” said Kupchak. “We are trying to expand our talent base and I think we have.”