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Unfortunate Injury Derails Gordon Hayward’s Promising Season

No matter how it’s sliced and diced, injuries are always going to be an unpleasant, often times uncontrollable element in sports. Forward Gordon Hayward knows this reality far too well right now, as a severe ankle sprain suffered in early February prematurely spoiled a second consecutive season with the Hornets. 

Hayward finished his 12th NBA campaign with averages of 15.9 points on 46% shooting – 39% from 3-point range – 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steal in 49 appearances, all but one of which were starts. The aforementioned injury occurred on Feb. 7 at home against Toronto, when his left leg got rolled up on following an awkward fall by Gary Trent Jr. underneath the Hornets’ basket. 

Diagnosed as a Grade 3 sprain – meaning the ligament is completely torn or ruptured – Hayward sat out the team’s ensuing 22 games before returning on April 2 in Philadelphia. He played just under 17 minutes against the 76ers and afterwards, continued to experience soreness, leading to a hard cast being put on and another indefinite timetable. Hayward later revealed that a fractured bone chip in the area had prevented him from healing completely.

“It’s very unfortunate and frustrating,” said Hayward during exit interviews. “I put in a lot of work last summer and throughout the year to have a great season and I felt like for the most part, that was the case. Can’t predict getting COVID twice and then you can’t predict somebody rolling with their full body weight onto my foot like that. It’s not stuff I can control. It stinks having to watch the games and not be able to contribute. You put in all that work so you can be in those moments. I’m going to keep working. I’ll be completely fine after this, but it is hard.”

He added, “I don’t know if I came back too early. I was trying to give everything I had. We targeted that date and I felt confident enough to go out there and try and play. After [the game in Philadelphia], I was limping and my foot was obviously hurting. It’s just one of those things that after talking with the doctors, this was the best course of action to get it to heal.”

It was another untimely sequence of bad luck for Hayward after he missed the final 25 overall outings in the 2020-21 campaign with a right foot sprain. The good news is though that his ankle feels fine and he shouldn’t need surgery provided he stays off the ailing foot, making a normal offseason quite realistic once everything fully heals.

Injuries aside, Hayward remained one of the team’s best offensive connectors when on the floor, regularly showcasing patient and controlled three-level scoring and facilitating capabilities. His most impressive performance of the season was easily a 41-point outburst in San Antonio on Dec. 15, in which Hayward played just over 29 minutes and shot 15-of-19 from the floor.     

While the Hornets would obviously love to have Hayward available as much as possible, it was a huge positive to see how they responded to his absence this year compared to last. Counting the Play-In Game losses, Charlotte went 17-17 without Hayward in the lineup this season following a 9-20 mark in 2020-21. Adversity is unavoidable in the NBA and finding a way to overcome it is vital.

“We’re trending in the right direction,” said Hayward. “You’ve seen these guys grow and we’ve grown as a team. We’re building something here and as long as everyone keeps working and we build this correctly, next year we can be even better. I saw that in Utah. Similar path where we had 20, 25 wins, then 30 and 40 and in my last year, we had 53 wins or whatever this was. Start at a low point and over the years, you get better and better. It’s fun to realize that.” 

Make no mistake, the Hornets need Hayward to be at their best, but the resiliency they’ve shown without him this year is certainly commendable. Fingers crossed the injuries are now in the rearview mirror with everybody’s sights now set on having a busy, productive summer.

“I work as hard as I can every year to try and prepare myself for the season,” said Hayward. “Things like this are out of your control. It’s not something I should worry about. At the end of the day, these things happen and players get injured. I think it’s how you respond from it. For me, I’m going to respond by having another great summer and being ready for next year.”