Lance Stephenson‘s antics during the 2014 NBA Playoffs suggested his head wasn’t always in the right place. If he wanted to be paid like a max-level player and still compete for a contender, Born Ready’s free agency decision has done nothing to repair that image.
According to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, Stephenson has agreed to a three-year, $27 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets. This news comes after Stephenson turned down a five-year, $44 million offer from Larry Bird and the incumbent Indiana Pacers, a team that made the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
The third year of Stephenson’s head-scratcher deal will have a team option.
On the one hand, Stephenson is, on paper at least, a good fit with the Charlotte Hornets. After losing Josh McRoberts to the Miami Heat and missing on Gordon Hayward with a max offer that was matched by the Utah Jazz, you have to credit Michael Jordan and company for rebounding the way they did with Lance Stephenson.
Though he was a bit of a head case this past season, the potential is clearly there and at age 23, he’s a promising, young piece that will help the Hornets build on their playoff appearance last year in the Eastern Conference. Stephenson, considered by many to be an All-Star snub last season, averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, all career highs. He shot 49 percent from the field, 35 percent from the three-point line and led the league in triple-doubles.
The Charlotte Hornets will sign Lance Stephenson to a 3-year contract, the last season a team option, the Observer has learned.
— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) July 16, 2014
In case math wasn’t your strong suit, Stephenson is leaving the Pacers for a shorter offer with the Hornets that will pay him nearly the exact same amount of money per year. Born Ready is leaving a team that was well-poisitioned to make the NBA Finals this year with LeBron James‘ departure for the Cleveland Cavaliers to join an up-and-coming Hornets team that probably won’t be the cream of the crop in the East. And again, he’s doing so for basically the same amount of money and two fewer years on the contract.
It’s possible that Stephenson never really wanted to stay in Indiana and was (born) ready to spread his wings a little bit. It’s also possible that Stephenson thought he’d get a max offer from someone and the market dried up because teams were torn about whether the potential reward was worth the risk. Either way, the move does nothing to improve Stephenson’s image as talented but slightly unstable.
For the Hornets, this is a great acquisition. A three-year deal with a team option on the third year means if Stephenson’s antics disrupt his path to being one of the more well-balanced and productive players in the league, Charlotte is in a good position to cut him loose after only a few seasons. The price is manageable and Stephenson joins a promising roster of Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and P.J. Hairston, though the prospect of Stephenson mentoring Hairston will probably give Michael Jordan and Steve Clifford nightmares.
Some risk for Hornets with Lance Stephenson – but tremendous talent, fair deal and a very good coach in place in Charlotte. — Steve Popper (@StevePopper) July 16, 2014
As for the Pacers, this is a significant blow to their hopes of finally breaking through in the East. LeBron makes the Cavs a dangerous team, but they might be too young for a Finals appearance just yet. The Chicago Bulls have had a tremendous offseason, but their hopes still rest on Derrick Rose‘s health. The Hornets, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors all aren’t ready and the Brooklyn Nets are falling apart. Had they been able to re-sign Stephenson, they might have finally made an NBA Finals appearance.
Alas, it looks like it wasn’t meant to be. How Stephenson thrives outside of Bird and Frank Vogel’s tutelage remains to be seen, but whatever the case it appears Stephenson needed to get out of Indiana. Clifford is a good defensive coach who will find a way to utilize Born Ready’s developing two-way game. This is a big step for a roster that needs help on the wing and the Hornets continue to position themselves as one of the East’s rapidly improving teams.