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Jan 26, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) talks with shooting guard Gordon Hayward (20) as Hayward reacts to being injured during the overtime period against the Indiana Pacers at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz won 114-110. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte Hornets: Targeting Gordon Hayward Over Lance Stephenson A Mistake

As of late, everything-NBA has revolved around the free agency decisions of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

LeBron and/or Carmelo wearing a Charlotte Hornets jersey may be every fan’s dream, but at this point, it’s pretty clear Charlotte isn’t in the running for either. No, at this point, it would be wise for the Hornets to start exploring other options while there is less competition for the second-tier free agents, with teams like Houston, Los Angeles and Cleveland caught up in the “superstar sweepstakes.”

Charlotte has already done so, and has decided to throw out an offer already, a max deal, to Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward. The Hornets hosted Hayward on Monday and Tuesday, and the two parties began contract negotiations, eventually agreeing on a four-year, $63-million offer sheet.

Hayward is a fantastic player, but the Hornets made a mistake.

While Charlotte didn’t strike out with Hayward by any means, unless Utah opts to match the offer sheet, Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson should’ve been the team’s target.

Stephenson and Hayward are both do-it-all wings. They are playmaking two-guards who are coming off career-seasons.

They can rebound, they can both run the floor, they can both slash, they both are streaky shooters, and they can both defend multiple positions. But, while on the surface their skill set may seem similar, it really isn’t at all.

While Hayward is a good athlete, he isn’t anything close to the one Stephenson is, and in turn relies on his jump shot much more than the latter does. Gordon isn’t a great 3-point shooter, but his mid-range game is one of the best in the NBA, which makes him a tough guy to guard.

The threat to pull-up from anywhere inside of 25 feet is a scary thought for most teams, especially knowing that Hayward can also get to the rim and set up his teammates once the defense is collapsed.

On the less-glamorous side of the court, Hayward can hold his own. He isn’t a stud by any means, but his length at the 2 spot and his effort make him a solid option.

Knowing that he would be playing next to one of the best perimeter defenders in the game in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and also considering Steve Clifford’s god-like ability to hide individuals’ defensive deficiencies, Hayward’s performance shouldn’t be that much of an issue.

Stephenson is a bit more flashy (and a bit more effective) than the former. The skill level is off the charts for Lance, and he is really one of the most diverse players in the game, as evidenced by his league-best five triple-doubles last year.

He is a very streaky shooter but is improving the consistency of his jump shot, he can handle the ball better than a handful of the association’s point guards, and he has a solid arsenal of floaters and flip shots that he can almost always get off–and convert more often that not–when he gets into the paint.

Defensively, Stephenson is a stud. He was tasked with guarding LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals, and while the four-time MVP did have his way on some nights, the constant poking and body-to-body contact by the Pacers’ star clearly frustrated James.

Stephenson’s biggest issue, one that scares numerous front offices around the league, is his attitude. At some points, he epitomizes everything wrong with hero ball.

His assist numbers would tell you he’s a good teammate, as would some of Indiana’s players, but last year that notion was put into question after Roy Hibbert made some remarks, supposedly directed towards Stephenson, that called out certain teammates for playing selfishly, and the news of a scuffle in practice between Stephenson and Evan Turner surfaced.

Lance is a big trash-talker, and has a very short fuse, and that combination can get him in trouble with the officials every once in a while. It’s not a rarity to see poor body language and flopping as well.

Stephenson’s unpredictable personality makes him a bigger risk than Hayward, but performance-wise, Stephenson gets the nod.

While teams need talent to win, how a player fits in to a system should also be an important factor in the decision. It’s important to note that Hayward, as a member of the Utah Jazz, played alongside Al Jefferson for three seasons, and thanks to Hayward’s high basketball IQ and passing ability, the pairing was very dynamic offensively.

Hayward is a very smart player, and makes the right passes, which would help a Charlotte offense that is losing Josh McRoberts, a player who also had a knack for making the right play.

On the other hand, Stephenson would’ve given the team another athlete who plays in transition that would help diversify its offensive capabilities. Last year, the Hornets’ offense was mostly generated in half-court sets, and often featured Al Jefferson either passing out of the post to find an open shooter or creating his own offense.

It gets predictable after awhile, and when Big Al had to take a breather, the Hornets’ attack often looked disorganized and ineffective. Charlotte needs to have someone who can push the ball from coast to coast, and help create offense for himself and his teammates in the halfcourt.

Stephenson is that guy.

While the Hornets did indeed make a run at Hayward, he is a restricted free agent, which means that Utah can, and is expected to, match the deal that Charlotte offered. The limitation on Hayward’s free agency forced the Hornets’ hand and really was the reason that the team included the fourth-year player-option and the 15 percent trade kicker that it did.

Stephenson’s negotiations with the Pacers came to a standstill when Indiana’s front office held firm on the five-year, $44 million offer they laid out last week. Stephenson’s camp was expecting something closer to $55 million for the same five years, which would put him at around $11 million per season.

Hayward’s contract is worth about $15.75 million a season, a number he probably doesn’t deserve.

To move up from that seven-seed they so-proudly held last year, the Hornets are going to need a game changer.

Lance Stephenson is a game changer.

Hornets fans better pray that for $63 million, Gordon Hayward is too.

Tags: 2014 NBA Free Agency Charlotte Hornets Gordon Hayward Lance Stephenson

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