Lance Stephenson's Craziness Makes His Future Impossible To Predict
In the 2013-2014 NBA season, when Lance Stephenson was playing for the Indiana Pacers, he emerged as a player who had the potential to be a future All Star.
That year, Stephenson led the league in triple doubles and finished second to Goran Dragić for Most Improved Player of the Year.
As I watched Lance grow throughout the 2013-2014 season, I found myself particularly intrigued by his versatility.
Stephenson is not only quick and aggressive in transition, but he's also capable of creating his own shot due to his excellent ball-handling skills.
Furthermore, he's an excellent playmaker who can play the "point forward" position and control the tempo of a team’s offense.
Lastly, he is a capable defender, as he was previously assigned to guard LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After the conclusion of the 2013-2014 season, Indiana offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million contract. Larry Bird was invested in the idea of keeping Lance around.
However, Stephenson turned down the Pacers' offer in favor of testing free agency.
Stephenson ended up with the Charlotte Hornets, signing a three-year, $27 million contract. It wasn't monumental, but the news still reverberated throughout the NBA as a major free agent signing.
The emerging Stephenson would start alongside perennial point guard Kemba Walker and dominant big man Al Jefferson, and it seemed a lethal "big three" had been formed.
Of course, Stephenson's achilles heel is his attitude.
After a few months in Charlotte, Stephenson was clashing with fellow teammates. What had initially been seen as a "big three" quickly became a disastrous free-agent signing.
Despite my praise of Stephenson above, it is undeniable how severely his game regressed with the Hornets, and in particular, how much of a liability his jump shot became. So, the Hornets started looking into trading him.
To be clear, Lance Stephenson is no stranger to controversy.
He was endlessly criticized for his classless behavior during the Eastern Conference Finals, which included trash-talking and playing silly mind games, mostly aimed at LeBron.
The particular act that received the most attention was when he blew into LeBron's ear, which Larry Bird, the president of the Pacers, was downright embarrassed by.
Stephenson had a knack for alienating his opponents, but even worse, his own teammates.
Before he was traded, Stephenson reportedly got into fights with teammates Evan Turner and George Hill, and was regarded as a selfish player.
Despite his behavior, Larry Bird was quickly involved in negotiations to bring Stephenson back, once the Hornets vocalized their distaste for him.
However, it soon emerged that Pacers players were opposed to the idea of bringing Stephenson back, and as a whole, they had been exhausted by his behavior.
Despite his talent, Stephenson's departure had been a blessing.
As it turned out, the Pacers had quite a bit of patience; it only took the Hornets a few months to grow sick of Stephenson.
The final surprising piece of the Lance Stephenson puzzle was no team bit on the Hornets' desire to trade him.
Stephenson is undeniably talented, and $18 million on a two-year contract (with one of those years being a player option) was a reasonable trade for someone with Stephenson's potential.
However, the consensus was out: Stephenson was a virus and no team wanted any part of it. That was, until the Clippers traded for him on June 15.
This trade sent Lance Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes. In evaluating this trade, let’s start with Charlotte.
As it stands, Barnes will likely be cut, which will afford Charlotte about $1.6 million in cap space. It's kind of a head scratcher, since Barnes is an effective bench player.
However, the true head scratcher of this deal is Spencer Hawes, who has a three-year, $20 million contract.
Don't get me wrong; I’m actually a fan of Spencer Hawes' game. But, the Hornets did not another need a big man with Jefferson, Zeller, Biyombo and Vonleh somewhere in the background.
Still, the trade isn't a total head scratcher. The Hornets are a defensive-minded team lacking in offensive firepower, and whereas Stephenson’s offensive touch disintegrated this season, Hawes is known as a sharpshooter.
Charlotte big man Cody Zeller was initially thought of as a shooter when he was drafted, but that has not materialized.
When Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are on the floor at the same time (which is often), Charlotte struggles offensively.
Thus, Hawes does present an intriguing option with his sharp-shooting abilities as a 7-footer who can drain three-pointers.
Not to mention, has everyone forgotten about Hawes' absurd year with the 76ers?
Of course, he was playing with the 76ers, but Hawes looked like Pau Gasol with a better jump shot before he was traded to the Clippers. Plus, Hawes is an absolutely excellent passer.
Either way, Hawes was being terribly overpaid, but one doesn’t make $20 million by accident; Hawes is capable of contributing.
In the end, the best way to evaluate the trade from Charlotte's perspective is by judging Lance's character.
The question will ultimately be, did Charlotte make a great move in the ridding of a head case, or did they trade a potential All Star for peanuts? Most would probably agree they successfully ditched a head case.
Now for the Clippers: In many ways, this trade does seem like a victory for the Clippers, who dumped a large salary with Hawes.
And, while I do believe they lost a reliable bench piece in Barnes, he was certainly expendable for the right player.
Of course, was Stephenson the right player?
For one thing, Stephenson is ball dominant, which will not bode well in LA. Chris Paul is utterly ball dominant (as he should be), and Blake Griffin has emerged as an effective playmaker in his own right.
So, it's hard to see where Lance fits in. Furthermore, Lance has proven to be a poor shooter, and that is a weakness of the Clippers.
Overall, the best way to evaluate the trade from the Clippers' perspective is, again, by judging Lance's character.
Did the Clippers make a savvy move and acquire a great, "buy low" candidate, or did they just add a ticking time bomb to the locker room?
As the great Phil Jackson once said, trades can truly be evaluated in four or five year’s time, so for now, the above is just speculation.
However, there's no denying the intrigue of an unpredictable player like Stephenson, who possesses the potential to elevate the Clippers into the championship squad they are so close to being.
For me, I would be most intrigued if the Clippers acquired Pierce (a looming rumor) to serve as Stephenson’s mentor.
In the end, one can't help but wonder if Lance Stephenson even deserves our attention with his history of juvenile behavior.
To many, he's not a player with potential, but a hopeless head case.
In my eyes, Stephenson bares similarities to DeMarcus Cousins or JR Smith, who are players with all the tools, but with one major problem: attitude.
Can Stephenson find a home with the LA Clippers? It will take one hell of a coaching job by Doc Rivers and a smart, patient locker room that understands what Stephenson could be, if he could just get out of his own way.