As rumors continue to intensify surrounding key Hornets players, NBA insider Marc Stein dropped some interesting tidbits regarding two veteran players on expiring contracts, Gordon Hayward and Kyle Lowry.
Stein confirmed rumors that the Hornets are doing their best to shop both players ahead of the February 8th trade deadline. This is great - albeit fairly obvious - news for Hornets fans, as each player is squarely in the twilight of their respective careers. Plus both players are in the final years of their contracts.
Lowry hasn’t even suited up for Charlotte since being acquired in the Terry Rozier trade, and all indications are that he won’t be joining the team at all. Hayward has been a key player for the Hornets since landing with the team in 2020, but his Hornets career has been clouded by injury, and he hasn’t played since December 26th due to his latest calf injury.
In other words, Lowry and Hayward likely have no value to the Hornets, but both may be able to help teams around the league. Lowry was having a down year in Miami, but his veteran leadership and composure in the backcourt could be useful to contending teams. While Hayward is due back from injury any day and possesses a highly sought-after two-way skillset.
But realistically, it’s not going to be easy to trade either player due to their ages, contracts, and overall health concerns. It’s been assumed by many that if the team is unable to find a trade partner before the deadline, they’d go ahead and negotiate buyouts, so Lowry and Hayward can sign on with other teams for the stretch run and postseason.
Stein confirmed that this is the most likely outcome for Kyle Lowry, mentioning his hometown Philadelphia 76ers as the most likely suitor. But it was noteworthy that Stein reported that Hayward may not actually seek a buyout from the Hornets, writing the following:
"“Sources say that Hayward is far less likely than Lowry to seek a buyout in the event Charlotte is unsuccessful in trading him. Hayward, who turns 34 in March, is earning $31.5 million this season in the last chapter of his four-year, $120 million contract and would forfeit his Bird Rights in a buyout.”- Marc Stein
This should be viewed as positive news for the Hornets. If they were to buy Hayward out of his contract, then he would become a free agent and the team would get nothing other than possibly saving some cash.
But if Hayward wants to remain with the team to preserve his Bird Rights, that opens up the possibility for the Hornets to re-sign him to a reasonable contract this offseason, or to sign-and-trade him to another team.
Hayward was originally acquired via sign-and-trade from the Celtics in 2020. A freshly extended Hayward would likely hold much greater trade value this summer than he does currently. For one thing, he could be locked up for multiple years, and for another, he will almost certainly be making considerably less money on his new contract.
This would also open up Hayward’s market to more teams as he’d be a free agent, but he’d need the Hornets to help facilitate a trade to any team lacking cap space. This could present a nice opportunity for Charlotte to squeeze some additional value out of Hayward.
Perhaps another element of Hayward’s desire to not be bought out could be the new CBA rules which prohibit teams that are above the luxury tax apron from signing players on the buyout market who were making more than the mid-level exception, $12.4 million. This automatically eliminates Boston, Milwaukee, Miami, Denver, LA (Clippers), Phoenix, and Golden State.
It’s definitely conceivable at this point that Hayward views his best option as staying in Charlotte, playing out the season and proving he can still play at a high level, and securing a sign-and-trade in the offseason using his Bird Rights. He’ll be 34 years old this offseason and is likely looking at one more big contract before retirement.