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Stephen A. Smith Has Blunt Message For Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward drives the ball.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 12: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Charlotte Hornets drives to the basket against Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors during the first half of their game at Spectrum Center on December 12, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

With the free-agency addition of former All Star Gordon Hayward and the No. 3 overall selection of rising star LaMelo Ball, the Charlotte Hornets posses a level of star power the franchise hasn't seen in years. Behind the solid play of their two new centerpieces, the team found themselves in solid position heading into the final stretches of the regular season.

Unfortunately, this relative hot streak for the Hornets was cut short with a couple of key injuries. As the consensus frontrunner for the NBA Rookie of the Year trophy at the time, Ball fractured his wrist during a Mar. 20 matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. Just a few weeks later, Hayward suffered a sprained foot on Apr. 2.

While LaMelo has since battled back from his broken wrist injury, Hayward still remains sidelined heading into Tuesday night's play-in matchup with the No. 9 seeded Indiana Pacers. In the 24 games the 11-year veteran missed with his foot injury, the Hornets finished the regular season on an 8-16 run -- dropping the team into the final No. 10 play-in spot.

With such an important matchup looming later tonight, people are beginning to question why Hayward isn't trying to make a comeback. According to insider reports for Stephen A. Smith, people around the Charlotte franchise believe the injured star has the ability to take the floor if he wanted to.

During an episode of ESPN's First Take on Tuesday, the outspoken analyst shared his opinion on the matter.

“What the hell is going on, Gordon Hayward? What the hell is going on? He’s been out for a while. Injured, really? Really,” Smith said. “Listen, I’m being told that you’ve got a lot of people in Charlotte who believe he can go. What’s up? You’ve got the money. You’ve got the bag. It ain’t like you’re approaching free agency, bro.

” … This team has collapsed over the last 10 games without Gordon Hayward. He’s important to them. Missing these damn games. What’s up? I mean, damn, what’s up? LaMelo’s back, with the broken wrist and all. How the hell’s a sprained foot keep you out this long? I’m just saying. It’s something that needed to be said, dammit.”

Signing a massive four-year, $128 million contract with the Hornets prior to this season, Hayward was expected to make a significant impact right away. And before this injury sidelined him for the remainder of the regular season, he did that. Through 44 games in 2020-21, the talented forward averaged 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.

As the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Hornets will now have to win back-to-back road games in order to claim an official playoff spot. If the Hayward-less squad can get past the Pacers tomorrow night, they'll face the loser of the Celtics and Wizards in the next play-in round.