Grade the trade: Hornets flip Gordon Hayward for budding star in mock trade

Keldon Johnson, Gordon Hayward, Charlotte Hornets. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Keldon Johnson, Gordon Hayward, Charlotte Hornets. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /
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Gordon Hayward is a legitimate trade chip for the Charlotte Hornets this summer. Hayward is entering the final year of his $120 million deal and is set to pocket $31.5 million in the upcoming season.

Multiple teams around the NBA would likely be willing to acquire Hayward via trade, as it would allow them to shed cap space ahead of a 2024 free agency that projects to be stacked. Flipping Hayward would also benefit Charlotte, as it would open up additional minutes for some of the team’s younger players while also allowing the front office to acquire fresh talent ahead of the new season.

In a recent article for At The Hive, Chase Whitney proposes a deal that would send Gordon Hayward plus future draft capital to the San Antonio Spurs in return for Keldon Johnson. The full trade looks like this:

Hornets get: Keldon Johnson

Spurs get: Gordon Hayward, JT Thor, 2026 first-round pick top-8 protected, 2028 second-round pick

"“Johnson’s high-IQ off-ball play as a cutter and spot-up shooter would be a tremendous complement to LaMelo Ball, and he’s an above-average perimeter defender and secondary playmaker to boot,” Whitney reasoned. “A starting lineup of Melo-KJ-Miller-Miles-Mark would be locked in for at least three seasons if this scenario played out and the Hornets extended Melo and Miles. That’s a playoff-caliber core with years to grow and develop together.”"

Adding a 23-year-old forward with the upside and experience of Johnson would be a big win for the Hornets in a potential deal to flip Hayward. Last season, Johnson played in 63 regular-season games for the Spurs, averaging 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists while shooting 45.2% from the field and 32.9% from 3-point range.

Would the Hornets swap Gordon Hayward for Keldon Johnson?

Keldon Johnson could be a trade target for the Charlotte Hornets.
Keldon Johnson could be a trade target for the Charlotte Hornets. /

Keldon Johnson would walk into a starting role for Charlotte and would instantly be viewed as one of their best players. Johnson would bring professionalism to the locker room, having developed within the Spurs system under Gregg Popovich.

According to Cleaning The Glass, 38% of Johnson’s offense came at the rim last season, although he did struggle to convert his chances, shooting just 62% within four feet of the basket. A Hornets rotation that includes Miles Bridges, LaMelo Ball, Brandon Miller, and Mark Williams could provide Johnson extra opportunities to work on his interior game while also operating in more space as a perimeter shooter.

Johnson did flash some upside as a three-point threat during the 2021-22 season, shooting 40% from outside, but has struggled to find high-quality shots in a rebuilding Spurs team that lacked any real spacing. Furthermore, Johnson’s age would fit perfectly with a young and exciting Hornets rotation and would allow him to continue his development while growing with a team that could begin making a push for the postseason.

Hayward’s tenure with Charlotte has been marred by injuries, so moving on from him and his mammoth contract while bringing back a young talent in Johnson would likely be appealing to Charlotte. Sure, adding some draft assets to the deal makes the trade an expensive one, but young talent with almost 300 NBA games of experience doesn’t come cheap.

Mitch Kupchak and the front office would likely sign off on this deal.