NBA: 5 free agents that will make the biggest impact on their new teams in 2021

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /
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NBA Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

5. Gordon Hayward, Charlotte Hornets

Many are criticizing the Charlotte Hornets for committing so much money to Gordon Hayward, but the former all-star forward is a great piece for a young team whose contention window is years down the road.

The Hornets inked Hayward to a four-year, $120 million contract. Thirty million alone is certainly an overpay for a 30-year-old small forward who has struggled with injuries the last few seasons, but it doesn’t stop there. The Hornets also waived Nicolas Batum and used the stretch provision on his remaining contract, which will cost them over $9 million a season over the next three years.

In essence, Charlotte is paying close to $40M a year over the next three years for Gordon Hayward. Even with that in mind, it’s still a good move for a few reasons.

First of all, Charlotte has never been a prime free-agent destination. Some top free agents they’ve acquired over the last decade include Al Jefferson, Marvin Williams, and, most recently, Terry Rozier. Even a hobbled Hayward immediately becomes their highest-ceiling free agent signing in recent memory.

Hayward has yet to return to his all-star form from before his gruesome opening-night injury in his first game as a Celtic in the 2017-18 season, but his progress has been encouraging. He was clearly shaking off the rust in his first season back, coming off the bench most of the season and averaging 11.5 points-per-game – his lowest average since his rookie season.

Last season, however, Hayward was getting back to his old self. Even on a team where he was clearly the third-best player (behind Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum), Hayward started 52 of the 52 regular-season games he appeared in and averaged an impressive 18/7/4 on 50 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent shooting from 3-point range before getting injured in the postseason.

More importantly, Hayward is a phenomenal veteran presence to have on a team that will be developing its young core of LaMelo Ball, Devonte’ Graham, and Miles Bridges. For a franchise whose roster has often been a turnstile of fringe NBA-caliber players, getting a talented, former all-star forward with plenty of playoff experience will be invaluable for its young players.

No, the Hayward signing doesn’t guarantee that the Hornets will be any good defensively or even sniff the play-in games this year. And yes, Hayward’s contract and Batum’s stretch provision will severely cripple Charlotte’s free-agent spending capabilities over the next four seasons.

Still, it’s unlikely that Charlotte would be acquiring anyone better in free agency anytime soon and Hayward’s addition should help the development of Ball, Graham, and the rest of the team – while potentially allowing them to remain in the lottery and keep acquiring solid young talent.