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In My Opinion

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Gordon Hayward’s visit shows Charlotte Hornets are in the game

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.
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The Charlotte Hornets will bring Gordon Hayward to town this week. Tall and athletic, a scorer, a shooter, a rebounder, a driver and a passer, Hayward would fit beautifully and could start at shooting guard or small forward.

Hayward is a restricted free agent. So if the Hornets offer him a contract, the Jazz will have the opportunity to match it.

Charlotte likely has one chance to sign Hayward, and that’s to offer a maximum contract, or close to it, and hope the Jazz can’t keep up.

Is Hayward worth anything close to a maximum contract? Like the rest of us, he’s worth what he can get.

Michael Jordan, who owns the Hornets, put pressure on general manager Rich Cho when he talked last month about adding “some other superstar” to the roster.

How many superstar free agents are there? LeBron James is. Some contend Carmelo Anthony is. Is Houston’s Chandler Parsons? Is Hayward?

Hayward is 24 years old and 6-foot-8. Last season he averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists. Because of Jazz injuries, he often ran Utah’s offense. Perhaps that dragged down his shooting percentage. Perhaps he didn’t have a teammate who could get him the ball where he wanted it.

Hayward shot 41.3 percent from the field, the fourth straight season his field goal percentage has declined.

He won’t have to run Charlotte’s offense. But he will help run it. To have a superior passer at a position other than point guard is invaluable, as free agent Josh McRoberts’ work last season for the Hornets attests.

Envision Hayward next to Kemba Walker in the backcourt, or at small forward next to McRoberts (can they sign a star and pay McRoberts?) or Cody Zeller. Envision the expected improvement from Zeller. Envision the potential of the young talent Charlotte acquired last month in the draft.

But, mostly, envision Hayward coming to town. Many of you are tired of the wait.

As a fan base we are impatient when it comes to pro sports. Several of you blasted Cho last week because, as far as we know, he did not bring a famous free agent to Charlotte.

Fans were similarly impatient this winter when the Carolina Panthers didn’t immediately sign receivers to replace Steve Smith and Ted Ginn Jr.

For the love of all that’s holy, the Panthers will have to run the ball on every play and Cam Newton will become tired of handing off and he’ll leave and Carolina will never win again.

I don’t know anybody in the Panthers organization who worries about the quality of their receiving corps. It’s the offensive line that worries them.

Cho, like Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman, feels no compulsion to announce what he knows when he knows it. In a world in which celebrities hold a news conference to announce that they’re going to hold a news conference, I admire stealth.

The Hornets and Panthers share another trait. Tired of mediocrity, they deliberately became worse so they could attain high draft picks and become better. The Panthers had a year head start.

Adding a player such as Hayward will eliminate the gap. If Charlotte’s draft is as effective as it appears – and there’s no way to know until we see first-round picks Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston on the court – the Hornets can win not merely a playoff game but a playoff series.

Vonleh is only 18 but appears to be a tremendous talent. The Hornets drafted him ninth out of Indiana. Utah drafted Hayward ninth out of another Indiana school, Butler, in 2010.

The Hornets have an array of young talent and a full complement of draft picks. A sign-and-trade deal with Utah is feasible. But how far would you go? How much of the future would you be willing to give up?

I don’t know if the Hornets will make Hayward an offer, or how big the offer will be.

I know only that Hayward’s visit to Charlotte proves the Hornets are in the game.

But when weren’t they?

Sorensen: 704-358-511; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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