The Oklahoma City Thunder were always going to make a deal by the NBA Trade Deadline. Sam Presti always makes a trade, and the Thunder's spot at the top of the Western Conference only made that more likely. Add in Davis Bertans' presence as the ultimate walking trade exception and the question was what, not if.
Even so, the list of players the Thunder were likely to pursue listed a lot of names before it came to the player who is ultimately heading to Oklahoma City. Just before 10am CT the NBA's newsbreakers reported that the Thunder were close to finalizing a deal with the Charlotte Hornets for former All-Star forward Gordon Hayward.
The Thunder are trading for Gordon Hayward
Davis Bertans was a lock to be included in any substantial trade, and once Hayward's name was reported that lock was set in stone. Hayward makes $31.5 million this season on an expiring contract; Bertans' $17 million does a lot of the work to matching that salary.
The question became what the value heading back to the Charlotte Hornets was, especially in light of Bertans having a small guarantee for next season vs Hayward's expiring deal. The answer appears to be young guard Tre Mann, the former 18th overall pick from the 2021 NBA Draft who has found himself outside of the Thunder's rotation but still boasting a lot of potential if he can get some playing time elsewhere.
The deal as currently reported is still missing some pieces. The Thunder need to add in more salary to send back to the Hornets to make the deal legal; that could be Aleksej Pokusevski, or the deal could be expanded to include other teams and players, which would change the calculus.
The other interesting financial wrinkle was reported on by cap expert Yossi Gozlan. Hayward has a 15 percent trade bonus written into his contract that could increase his salary from $31.5 million to $33.3 million. That would have an impact on the matching salary coming back, and if Hayward to take the full amount Pokusevski's salary would not be enough on its own. Hayward could elect to waive part or all of the trade kicker.
This trade doesn't mean that the Thunder are done, but unless they are open to making a big swing with one of their core rotation players, they won't have the matching salary to use for anyone making more than a few million dollars. They will also be closer to the luxury tax line after this deal, and given how this team will likely get quite expensive in the coming years the Thudner will be careful not starting the clock too soon on luxury tax payments.
Gordon Hayward's fit on the Thunder
Gordon Hayward is in his 14th season in the league, and this is the first time he has been traded in-season (he joined the Charlotte Hornets via a sign-and-trade in the 2020 offseason). The 33 year old forward has played the last four seasons in Charlotte, starting 167 of his 168 games and giving them scoring punch and playmaking from the frontcourt.
Now he'll get to bring that ability to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He will likely slot into a bench role rather than as a starter, although the Thunder have juggled a number of injuries lately that could afford Hayward a larger role on certain nights. Given his injury history, the Thunder will almost certainly keep him in a limited role to maximize his availability and impact when he's on the court.
Hayward's ability to handle the ball and run the offense could make him a good foil to Josh Giddey in the rotation, coming off the bench early to play minutes with the starters while Giddey is then brought in with the sharpshooting bench mob. It's also possible that head coach Mark Daigneault moves Giddey the bench to start Hayward in his place at some point.
The Thunder can't expect lockdown defense from Hayward, and his 3-pointer is hovering at a middling 36.1 percent for the season. He brings a crafty scoring game and steady hand, but he isn't the high-minute All-Star he used to be. Even so, playing with the Thunder's spacing, his offensive game should flourish.
This isn't the swing for a co-star the Thunder could have sought out, but that kind of a deal also didn't appear to be available. This trade maintains their draft assets and also loads them up for the playoff run. If things go well, the team could look to bring him back this summer; they also could let him walk and have plenty of cap space to make a move.