In one of those risky, make-or-break moves, the Los Angeles Clippers traded with the Charlotte Hornets for Lance Stephenson, giving Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes in return.
Since becoming both the head coach and general manager of the Clippers, Doc Rivers has been criticized for his moves as a GM which left the Clippers without a bench or any use for the players on it. He now gives away even more depth for a player who completely failed at the first sign of expectations, but Rivers believes his talents haven’t disappeared, and the Clippers can make excellent use of him.
The Hornets got a stretch ‘4’ who had a bad season they’ve been needing for quite some time in Spencer Hawes. As for Barnes, who had a good regular season but very bad playoff, the Hornets are already thinking about cutting him and his $3.5 million contract loose. Barnes is a decent shooter and pretty good defender, but with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, he’s not likely to get a lot of minutes, so it might be beneficial for both sides to reach some sort of buyout.
Back to Stephenson, who very quickly reached the stage of ‘one last chance or by the time your contract ends no one is going to touch you’ after looking like a borderline star for the Pacers during the postseason. There’s no doubt Stephenson can do a lot of things on the court. He can pass, defend bigger players and shoot well enough from beyond the arc. But all that didn’t happen after signing as a free agent with the Hornets.
He averaged just 8.2 points per game last season, getting dropped to the bench and sometimes not used at all, shooting just 37.6% from the field (12 percentage points lower than the previous season) and 17.1% from beyond the arc (18 percentage points lower than the previous season). His net rating is close to -20, and the Hornets, most of the time, looked better without him.
Stephenson isn’t such a terrible burden on the salary cap. Sure, he’ll be making $9 million this season, but the Clippers now have a team option worth $9.4 million on his 2016-2017 deal. It’s going to take a lot from him to prove he’s worth that kind of cap hit, although in 2016, that salary won’t seem to be all that much anymore, considering the salary cap raise.
The problems with Stephenson are in the matter of fitting in, his personality and how he’ll handle the pressure and the redefined expectations of him. The Clippers are hoping that in the strong locker room culture they have going under Rivers and with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, they can get him back on track, and become the useful 3, D and more player he should have been at this point.