On Monday night the Los Angeles Clippers and Charlotte Hornets agreed to a trade that sends Lance Stephenson to the Clippers in exchange for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes.
For the Clippers it’s a low-risk, high-reward trade.
Stephenson only spent one year in Charlotte after Michael Jordan and the Hornets gave him a three-year, $US27 million deal. Stephenson struggled mightily in the 61 games he played, averaging eight points, four rebounds, and four assists while shooting just 37% from the field and 17% from three-point range.
Thought to be the player that would turn the Hornets into serious playoff contenders, Stephenson was widely considered one of the worst free agent signings last year.
However, the trade is a steal for the Clippers because Stephenson is young (24 years old), fills a dire need on the wing, and perhaps best of all, has a team option on the third year of his contract. If Stephenson performs horribly again in 2015-16, the Clippers can opt not to pick up the third year of his deal, and he’ll become a free agent.
In turn, the Clippers give up Hawes, who had a minus-2.8 net rating on the court and couldn’t play in the playoffs, and a 35-year-old Barnes who’s on his eighth team in 12 years.
There’s reason to believe Stephenson could rebound from last season. Prior to his stint in Charlotte, he had spent the last two seasons becoming an important player for the Indiana Pacers. His scoring, efficiency, rebounds, and assists all improved from 2012-13 to 2013-14, when he led the NBA in triple-doubles. In those two seasons, he shot an average of 34% from three-point range, suggesting if he’s on a team with good spacing, and he’s not one of the primary ball-handlers, he can still be a respectable three-point threat.
Stephenson struggled on the Hornets, acting as a secondary playmaker to Kemba Walker. When he did have the ball, he had little room to shoot or get into the paint because the Hornets had no spacing — they were the worst three-point shooting team in the league. While Stephenson never found ways to integrate himself into the offence and adapt his role, he also was working with a below-average offence that didn’t have creative ways to use him.
The Clippers, meanwhile, ran the best offence in the NBA last year. While Stephenson will still have to adapt to having the ball less next to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, having two elite playmakers in a more efficient offensive system should help Stephenson get on track. The Hornets defence was better without Stephenson last season, but in Indiana, Stephenson was an important cog in one of the league’s best defences. The Clippers finished 15th in defensive rating last season, and could improve if they retain DeAndre Jordan and get useful perimeter defence from Stephenson.
There is some risk in the move — though Hawes couldn’t get off the bench in the playoffs, Barnes was a useful “3 and D” player for the Clippers. With Barnes on the court, the Clippers had a 12 net rating, higher than Griffin and Jordan. If Stephenson doesn’t recover any of his form, it could hurt the Clippers spacing, weaken an already-iffy defence, and shorten an already-shallow rotation.
Still, at worst, it’s a one-year gamble on a player who was one of the most versatile, intriguing wings in the NBA just two seasons ago. If Stephenson returns to form, it could be a huge pick-up for the Clippers.