Almost everyone in the NBA is done adding significant players, now trying to fill final roster spots. Is there still room for talented players like Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and Ty Lawson? Or perhaps the offcourt concerns regarding each of them are simply too much to handle?
Stephenson is probably the most surprising player of the trio to still be unemployed. After leaving the Clippers to the Grizzlies, he put up nice numbers on an injury ravaged team, averaging 14.2 points in 26.6 minutes through 23 games. He shot 47.4% from the field and even 52% in the postseason, as the Grizzlies were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. He still isn’t 26, has plenty of postseason experience, can shoot the ball and handle it from the forward position. There should be more demand for him.
But Stephenson shot himself in the foot, figuratively, the moment he turned down a five-year, $44 million contract from the Indiana Pacers in 2014. Someone told him he’s a superstar being held back, so he signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets, with a team option on the third year, certain he’d be carrying them, and earning himself a much bigger contract. He ended up averaging 8.2 points while shooting under 38% from the field, traded at the end of a failed season to the Clippers.
He never fit in with the team style and system in Los Angeles, averaging 4.7 points in only 15.8 minutes a game, slowly but surely pushed out of the rotation. His ability with the Grizzlies and not too long ago with the Pacers should make him worthy of getting a shot from someone, especially when there are no injury concerns or an age problem, but worries about who he’ll fit in a team system and impact the locker room are keeping him out of a job.
Josh Smith is a different story. Smith seems like a player that the moment he got a big payday from the Detroit Pistons decided he doesn’t really care anymore. He got cut by the Pistons, willing to soak up more than half of his salary and just not have him on the team anymore, making him someone else’s problem. In 2014-2015, he actually helped the Houston Rockets off the bench, especially in the postseason. But last season, both with the Clippers and then again with the Rockets, Smith looked exactly like how big men who lose their athleticism but have very little skills look: 6 points per game, shooting 36.4% from the field and not giving up on his attempt to hit 3’s, even if he’s terrible in it.
Smith can still contribute in the right scheme, especially on defense. But he’s regarded as a bad influence on the locker room with a work ethic that’s fading away, not being too strong in recent years anyway. He’ll be 31 in December, but the last two seasons and especially the last one, doing very little to correct the negative perception of him, might keep him unemployed, at least when the season begins.
As for Ty Lawson, it’s no surprise teams are worried. DUIs and basically a terrible season with both the Rockets (see a pattern emerging?) and then the Indiana Pacers has turned him from a likable, fun to watch point guard into an untouchable. Lawson couldn’t play next to James Harden, gave them almost nothing from the bench, and contributed very little in Indiana too. It wasn’t just a matter of a reduced role and not touching the ball: Whatever happened to Lawson during the offseason, be it Alcohol or simply the pressure of putting himself in this situation, he seems like a player who lost his abilities. He averaged 15.2 points and 9.6 assists per game in 2014-2015. All that disappeared in an instant.
Being without a team in early August doesn’t mean it’s over for them in the NBA, especially for Stephenson. But it’s probably going to take a one-year deal with very little guaranteed money to get a team to take a shot at them. It’s funny how quickly reputation change in the NBA, but this trio, and especially Stephenson’s case, suggests there is more than just ability when teams are looking at potential signings, and often what’s beyond their numbers