Gordon Hayward is all the way back. After three injury-plagued, disappointing seasons in Boston, Hayward again looks like an All-Star. He put an exclamation mark on that sentiment on Sunday with a season-high 39 points including the game winner with 0.7 seconds remaining to beat the Orlando Magic. It is now time to laugh at those who laughed at the Hornets and Hayward.
Sports Illustrated gave the signing a C-. The Charlotte Observer said the Hornets overpaid. The Ringer said he move was confusing and said he was past his prime. Yahoo! said it was the worst value of any contract signed this offseason. Kendrick Perkins simply said it was "not good."
We are not above it at The Big Lead. On November 17th we said that Hayward would opt-in to the final year of his deal because, "nobody else is going to pay him over $30 million after three injury-riddled seasons in Boston." When he did opt out we called it "insane" two days later. Two days after that we wondered what the Hornets were thinking. And finally, we spiked the football when he got hurt in December, a week before the season began.
How dumb do we all look now?
Hayward did not miss a single game. In fact, he's played in 13 of Charlotte's first 14 contests, only missing one last week with a hip sprain. The avulsion fracture on his shooting hand hasn't bothered him as he is scoring a career high 24.1 points per game while shooting career-highs in from the field (.512) and the line (.868). He's also making a blistering 42.5 percent from three on a career-high 5.3 attempts per game.
So it seems like he just needed a fresh start after a nightmare of a time in Boston, which wasn't really any one person's fault. He suffered one of the most brutal injuries you will ever see on live television. It made sense that he was slow to return to form. By the time he came back he was competing for minutes, touches and shots with a very talented group that had figured out how to play without him. And he wasn't able to stay healthy.
Now that he's in Charlotte he gets to be the man again. The Hornets are just 7-9, but they're better than they were last season. It's still early in the season and crowded in the middle of the Eastern Conference. The Hornets, along with a few other teams, are only two games out of the No. 4 seed. Who knows where they end up. If Hayward stays healthy, it could be in the playoffs. Then their investment will have really paid off.