Gordon Hayward has battled injuries for the past several seasons and is no longer playing at the same level as he was back in 2017 when he made his first and only All-Star game. But Hayward is the sort of big wing who has real value on a playoff roster, according to Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman, who notes that the price the Thunder paid to acquire the veteran forward – three matching salaries and a pair of second-round picks – was relatively modest.
Hayward may end up being no more than an insurance policy for the Thunder, Mussatto acknowledges, but in a best-case scenario, he’ll become a regular rotation piece and perhaps even a player who could be part of closing lineups. And, as Mussatto points out, the three players Oklahoma City gave up for Hayward (Davis Bertans, Tre Mann, and Vasilije Micic) almost certainly wouldn’t have been playoff contributors.
Hayward, who has been sidelined since December 26 due to a calf injury, appeared to be nearing a return for the Hornets, but he won’t play until after the All-Star break for Oklahoma City, tweets Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman.
As Rylan Stiles of Locked on Thunder notes (via Twitter), head coach Mark Daigneault suggested Hayward is probably healthy enough to play today, but the Thunder want to put him through their return-to-play protocol and let him adjust to his new surroundings before he takes the court.
Here’s more from around the Northwest:
- Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch is enthusiastic about having the opportunity to add newly acquired guard Monte Morris to his rotation, as Chris Hine of The Star Tribune writes. “He’s a winner. He just kind of makes the right play. Super solid, low-turnover guy,” Finch said. “He’s used to playing off of a lot of star players really well. I think it’s a fairly seamless partnership with Mike (Conley). It’s not like this other type of guard that you have to adjust to. Just his high basketball IQ, you can’t have enough of those guys.”
- Morris also expressed excitement about joining the Timberwolves and said on Friday that he’s still getting up to game speed after spending most of the season recovering from a quad injury, per Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. “I was out for a long period of time,” Morris said. “Realistically, I’d say just ramp up my strength and conditioning running. I’ve played in games. I’m not dead tired, but I know there’s another notice I can get to, and I’ll get to it really, really soon.”
- The Jazz‘s moves at the trade deadline signal that they continue to prioritize the long term over the short term, despite the fact that they currently hold a play-in spot, writes Andy Larsen of The Star Tribune. As Larsen observes, the departures of Kelly Olynyk, Ochai Agbaji, and Simone Fontecchio should open up playing time for rookies Taylor Hendricks and Brice Sensabaugh.
- Nuggets forward Julian Strawther, who was sidelined for over a month due to a knee injury, played on Friday for the first time since January 4, scoring seven points on 3-of-8 shooting in 20 minutes. According to Bennett Durando of The Denver Post (subscription required), head coach Michael Malone said prior to Friday’s game that Strawther wouldn’t necessarily be assured of a consistent rotation role going forward.