Stephen A. Smith rips Gordon Hayward for not returning from injury sooner

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Stephen A. Smith rips Hayward for not returning from injury sooner originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Gordon Hayward has been ruled out of the Charlotte Hornets' NBA play-in tournament game Tuesday night against the Indiana Pacers, and ESPN's Stephen A. Smith isn't impressed with the situation.

Hayward suffered a right foot sprain in early April against the Pacers. Charlotte said he would be re-evaluated in four weeks.

Unfortunately for the Hornets, Hayward won't be available for Charlotte's must-win game. The Hornets need to beat the Pacers and then also defeat the loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 play-in game to clinch the No. 8 seed in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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Smith gave a passionate take on Hayward's lack of availability during Tuesday morning's episode of "First Take" on ESPN.

“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.”

Hayward missed 38 of the Hornets' 72 regular season games. His absence is a big deal for Charlotte, a team that really benefits from his scoring, playmaking, playoff experience and defensive versatility. 

The 31-year-old veteran averaged 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game this season.

Unless the Hornets can defy the odds, win two play-in matchups and get into the playoffs, we probably won't see Hayward in a real game for Charlotte until October.