OKC Thunder Year-End Report Card: Gordon Hayward

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The Oklahoma City Thunder capped off a stellar 2023-2024 season with a 57-25 record, giving the Bricktown boys their first playoff series since 2016. Despite falling in six games to the eventual Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks in the second round, the Oklahoma City Thunder won The Thunder season can be described as nothing short of a success.

As the year comes to a close, it’s time for our OKC Thunder Year-End Report Card to go through each player on the roster to give them a final grade and look to the future. Today is Gordon Hayward’s final exam.

Leading up to the NBA trade deadline, Hayward was a hot topic. Many – including this writer – believed the NBA veteran could contribute substantially to the Thunder. While everyone – except the swingman himself – knew the Thunder would play a lesser role, Oklahoma City was able to use its scoring prowess off the bench to avoid the lulls they normally find themselves in in the middle of games.

When Sam Presti pulled the trigger on the road and sent three benchwarmers to Buzz City for a proven NBA veteran, the rare decision was met with a near-positive consensus. As Hayward battled his way back from a calf injury that sidelined him for seven months, much to the surprise of Bricktown observers, his team defense was more than good enough to stay on the ground. This left many hopeful that the score would come.

After all, the offensive end was never an issue for the former All-Star, but with each passing day, frustration mounted as the Thunder continued to trot out a player who seemed to have the yips. Looking towards the edge almost made the 34-year-old hide as if he saw the boogeyman. Not being able to get the ball out of his hands fast enough.

This made Hayward’s Thunder stint a forgettable one on the floor, averaging 5.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 17 minutes of action per game. So color the room of reporters in surprise when Hayward took the stage for his exit interview with a fire of aggression that the organization only dreamed of seeing on the field.

As the veteran detailed his frustration with the organization due to a lack of details, you were almost waiting for Ashton Kutcher to emerge from the bushes and reveal that he’s relaunching Punk’d as Hollywood continues to do iterations.

That separation was squashed during Sam Presti’s interview a week later, leaving the two sides ready to part ways, it seems from the outside, with Hayward’s free agency looming.

In what should have been a blip on the radar, Hayward’s lack of coach-speak on the day of the exit interview remains the highlight of his Thunder tenure.

The former hitmaker at previous stops will not be remembered in his later years for his flameout single. However, there is still hope that Hayward can be an impact player in a different environment that is more willing to be a role player. But that won’t be in Oklahoma City.

Maybe another place, another time.

Seasonal figures: F – Frustrating.

An attitude adjustment would be Hayward’s biggest saving grace. Gone are the days of him being cast as the lead, welcome to the ‘added to the credits to make the movie look better’ part of Hayward’s career. Hoping to still make a subtle impact for a contender and adapt to a non-star role.

This is a difficult adjustment for any player who has reached the heights Hayward has reached in his career, so not being a role player in his first opportunity is not an indictment on him. Many players have seen these types of zeppelins before making a nice contribution to a contender a few months later.

With rumors of the Denver Nuggets sniffing around, that’s what Hayward should be hoping for, but it will take reflection and a lack of demanding touches so he can get off the rock quickly.

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