Gordon Hayward will be a Thunder contributor, not a young team’s ‘chaperone’

Gordon Hayward will be a Thunder contributor, not a young team’s ‘chaperone’

When he suits up (and that will be a while) Gordon Hayward will be the Thunder’s oldest player. But the team brought him to OKC to play, not dispense wisdom.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Feb 9, 2024, 2:50pm CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Feb 9, 2024, 2:50pm CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — Around here, Gordon Hayward is an old guy. 

The former Hornets forward, whom the Thunder acquired in a trade Thursday, turns 34 next month. He’s not exactly on the cusp of AARP membership. But on a team with the youngest rotation in the NBA, the 6-foot-7 vet is practically Yoda. 

But the Thunder didn’t bring him here to dispense wisdom. 

“We don’t need a chaperone,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said Friday. “These guys are on their own two feet. Our players are great young professionals that we have a lot of trust in, in terms of their professionalism, commitment level — all the things that people would assume you glean from veteran players. So it’s more about the person.”

And the player. 

The hope is that Hayward — who’s in his 14th NBA season — is a locker-room fit and a go-to guy for advice about, for example, a playoff run. But the Thunder also wants him to do what he does. 

Hayward is here to score, to be a cog in an explosive offense. 

He’s here for his on-court contributions to winning. 

“He’ll fit right in with us,” forward Jalen Williams said. “Can play fast. Does a lot of things well offensively and defensively that we’re looking forward to having him (do). So it should be exciting.”

But the excitement will have to wait a while. 

Hayward, who has been dealing with a left calf strain, last played for the Hornets on Dec. 26 and won’t suit up for the Thunder until after the All-Star break, Daigneault said. 

That means the earliest Hayward could make his OKC debut is Feb. 22, at home against the L.A. Clippers. 

Hayward won’t make the Thunder’s short trip to Dallas this weekend. He’ll stay in OKC, Daigneault said, while the team takes on the Mavericks on Saturday. The Thunder plays at home Sunday against Sacramento. 

Hayward is “feeling pretty good,” Daigneault said, but the Thunder will put him through its return-to-play protocol “as if he were here all along.” 

Daigneault and Hayward met Friday with Donnie Strack, the team’s director of performance, to discuss getting Hayward back on the floor. 

“We’re more interested in merging him onto the highway with the team in a way that’s additive,” Daigneault said. “That’s a delicate process midseason; we’re aware of that. And so we’re going to measure twice and cut once. We’re not going to be hasty with his return to play physically or with his integration from a basketball standpoint, because we think that gives it the best chance to add value to the team and impact to the team.”

The team, Williams said, is open to that added impact. 

He admitted that the trade deadline “sucks” in that acquiring Hayward meant trading away guards Tre Mann and Vasilije Micic and forward Davis Bertans. Mann had been in OKC the longest — since he was drafted in 2021 — and though his minutes had dwindled, he was close with many of his teammates. 

“He meant a lot to everybody in here,” Williams said. “So everybody’s excited that he kind of gets a fresh start in Charlotte. But it’s a bittersweet moment.”

The sweet part is adding a versatile forward who made a good first impression. 

Hayward already has met with his teammates and talked about how he likes to play, Williams said, while making clear that he’s “receptive to things we want to do.” 

Williams called Hayward “a good dude” and “a lot taller than I thought, which is cool,” and said the Thunder was ready to welcome him. He said the Thunder’s culture is to be “pretty embracing of everything,” particularly of a player like Hayward who can help OKC win. 

As for whether Hayward will catch grief for being the old guy, well…

“That already happened,” Williams said. 

If he can handle that, Hayward can be a good fit. 

And his fit matters. Thunder general manager Sam Presti, Daigneault said, has been “very selective about who we’re bringing in the door,” seeking players who fit with the organization, in the locker room and stylistically on the court.  

“(Hayward) was a guy that Sam felt strongly checked all three of those boxes,” Daigneault said. 

And when Hayward takes the court, the plan is for him to deliver tangible results.

Around here Hayward’s age stands out, but the objective is for him to fit in with a young, developing team fighting for the top spot in the Western Conference. 

“As a locker room, they’ve leaned on each other and worked together to gain those experiences and learn from those experiences,”  Daigneault said. “And he’s going to be way more part of that process than he is like this wise sage that’s sitting and lecturing everybody on his experiences. We wouldn’t put that burden on him.”

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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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