Why Won’t Teams Sign Lance Stephenson?

Apr 9, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Lance Stephenson (1) looks for a foul during the final seconds of the game against the Golden State Warriors at FedExForum. The Warriors won 100-99. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Lance Stephenson (1) looks for a foul during the final seconds of the game against the Golden State Warriors at FedExForum. The Warriors won 100-99. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

Two years ago, it would’ve seemed inconceivable that Lance Stephenson would be out of the NBA. According to reports, that may be his reality.

In the summer of 2014, Lance Stephenson was a 23-year-old coming off of an All-Star caliber season, averaging 13.8 points and a team-leading 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists for the 56-win Indiana Pacers.

Two years later, Stephenson may be headed to play basketball overseas.

Stephenson rejected a deal to return to the Pacers on a five-year, $44 million deal and instead chose an ill-fated three-year deal worth $27 million with the Charlotte Hornets, with the third year being a team option.

Stephenson spent one nightmare of a season with the Hornets before being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, where he failed to find a role before being traded again last February at the trade deadline to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jeff Green.

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Stephenson seemed to revive his career with the Grizzlies, who were decimated by injuries.

In 26 games with the Grizzlies, Stephenson averaged 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 26.2 minutes of action per night.

Even more impressive than his raw numbers on a team that was desperate for NBA players was his efficiency, shooting 47.4 percent from the field and an impressive 35.5 percent on three-pointers.

Stephenson’s last-ditch performance for a team that featured a roster that resembled a D-League roster more than an actual NBA roster wasn’t enough to convince the Grizzlies to keep Stephenson with his team option.

With Stephenson’s past flashes and contributions at still a pretty young age (25), it was largely assumed that with teams having loads of cap space, somebody would take a chance on Stephenson in hopes that he’d rediscover his production in Indiana.

It’s August and Stephenson hasn’t landed a contract. Not only has he not signed anywhere, there haven’t been many rumors of teams interested in adding Stephenson.

Players like James Jones, Alan Anderson, Andrew Harrison, Tim Quarterman, Sasha Vujacic and many other free agents who haven’t produced, shown the potential or have time on their side have signed, yet Stephenson remains available.

Why won’t anyone take a shot on the volatile yet talented guard?

The simple answer is that Stephenson is a tough player to coach and to fit in a role that doesn’t let him heavily featured while also being a player who’s a question mark in the chemistry department.

On the court, Stephenson needs the ball in his hands to be effective. Stephenson’s been an inconsistent shooter in his career when playing off the ball. He excels at breaking down opponents off the dribble and creating for himself or others.

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Stephenson peaked in Indiana playing next to

George Hill

, a point guard who doesn’t fit the bill as a ball-dominant point guard. Stephenson was allowed to be the primary ball-handler and creator for the Pacers’ offense.

Stephenson has since struggled playing next to ball-dominant point guards Kemba Walker and Chris Paul in offenses that are starved for spacing for him to work when he does receive the ball.

He’s not as good as Walker or Paul, which made it difficult and near-impossible to fit him into the offense in a way that was beneficial for both Stephenson and the team.

Giving the ball to Stephenson takes the ball out of better players and offense-creators, but playing him off-the-ball makes him almost useless offensively.

For Stephenson to be at his best, he needs to run the offense. In an NBA that has a surplus of high-quality point guards and wings capable of running offenses, Stephenson’s fits are limited.

The 25-year old combo guard is probably best-suited as a sixth or seventh man and lead ball-handler for a second unit.

Stephenson isn’t the professional scorer that a prototypical sixth man like Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams is, but he creates points by breaking down defenders and creating good opportunities for his team’s offense.

The issue is that in order to get that type of Stephenson, you have to trust him to run your offense.

Trusting a player like Stephenson with such a heavy offensive role takes a ton of patience, as he has a bad habit of trying to make the highlight play, which can have great results or horrible results.

Defensively, Stephenson is pretty damned good when he’s dialed in, which is the majority of the time. He has a penchant for falling asleep when his man doesn’t have the ball, but his on-ball defense is rock solid.

On the court, Stephenson is a tough player to find a fit for. When you add in his off-the-court questions, that’s what really keeps teams away.

Stephenson has proven to be an odd personality who has been an irritant to opponents as well as his own teammates.

When teams are thinking about signing Stephenson, it’s not in a major role. This provides a problem in that teams are weighing his on-court fit and his ability to mesh in a locker room.

If Stephenson were a star, his problems would be thrown to the wayside. As a backup, teams prefer the safety of a proven veteran who isn’t going to be a problem or a cheaper, younger player who won’t raise any problems and could contribute down the line.

Dion Waiters is a solid comparison due to position, volatility, and being a ball-dominant player who isn’t quite good enough for a team to allow him to be a primary ball-handler.

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Waiters found a home in Miami on a one-year, $2.9 million deal, with a player option for the second year. Although Waiters figured to have many suitors for what he can potentially do, teams shied away for the same reasons that Stephenson remains unsigned.

The difference is that Waiters is a year younger and showed flashes of being a solid defender and capable of creating scoring opportunities in the playoffs.

If Stephenson is unable to land a contract for next season, it may be hard for him to make a return.

Stephenson would likely be the best player on whatever team he joins outside of the NBA, allowing him to play his style of basketball, bringing the ball up the court and making flashy moves.

Even if Stephenson puts up huge numbers outside of the NBA, it might only reinforce the reasons why teams aren’t willing to give him a contract.

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The decline of Stephenson has been an extremely odd one. Going from a player who looks like an All-Star to possibly being out of the league in two years is unheard of for someone at his age.