Of all the players on the Charlotte Hornets roster, nobody has a closer relationship with Gordon Hayward than Al Jefferson.
Hayward, the Utah Jazz forward who signed a four-year, $63-million offer sheet with the Hornets on Thursday, spent Monday and Tuesday listening to pitches from the team’s front office.
Jefferson, who played with Hayward during his tenure with the Jazz, was part of those meetings – doing his best to bring one of the biggest names in free agency to Charlotte. He took Hayward out to eat and spent time with his wife and family.
“It was fun,” Jefferson said of the recruiting process. “Especially to do it with Gordon. It’s an honor to hear that he wants to come back and play with me. It lets me know I am not a bad teammate.”
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Because Hayward is a restricted free agent, the Jazz can retain him by matching the Hornets’ contract offer by 11:59 p.m. Sunday. But the Hornets made enough of an impression for Hayward to cancel his meetings with other suitors. Jefferson hopes Hayward ends up in Charlotte. He says Hayward fills the gap created with the departure of Josh McRoberts, who signed a contract with the Miami Heat earlier in the week.
“If we could get Gordon, that would help us out,” Jefferson said. “He and Josh (McRoberts) kind of do the same thing as far as passing and things like that. He can fill that space a little bit.”
Jefferson admitted that he was sad to see McRoberts leave for Miami – but wishes his former teammate nothing but success in South Beach.
“Josh was one the guys I was closest to on the team,” he said. “I talked to him right before he made his decision. I told him he had to do what was best for him. I wanted him to come back to Charlotte, but he had to do what’s best. It made him feel good that he had my support. It’s a business at the end of the day.”
For fans unfamiliar with Hayward’s game, Jefferson pointed to last season’s playoff series with Miami and how Hayward could have helped.
“Last year – with Miami in the playoffs – they blitzed Kemba Walker on the pick and roll and were double teaming me,” he said. “Gordon is another guy we could’ve given the ball. He can score. He can make his own plays. He can get everyone else involved. He is one of those guys who has improved every year he has been in the league.”
Jefferson spent Thursday afternoon speaking to kids at Hornets’ President Fred Whitfield’s basketball camp at Ardrey Kell High School. There was not a noticeable limp in his step – good news for fans who remember the foot injury he suffered in the playoff series with the Heat. Jefferson says the injury is a non-issue.
“Everything on my body is perfect,” he said jokingly. “I ran on the treadmill all week. I don’t even think about it anymore. To answer your question, everything is great.”
Jefferson noted that the week could be improved with the addition of Hayward, although news outlets in Salt Lake City have reported that the Jazz plan to match the Hornets’ offer.
“I’m really happy,” Jefferson said of potentially playing alongside his old teammate. “Gordon is one of those guys that I think can be really special.”