Early yesterday morning, Grantland's Zach Lowe posted a wonderful, detailed analysis of Lance Stephenson's strengths and weaknesses, and went on to list a handful of teams he believes will be interested in signing the controversial shooting guard. The Charlotte Hornets were among the bidders.
If the Hornets are indeed interested in signing Stephenson, they should be very diligent but equally careful when analyzing his prospective value. Stephenson is an immensely talented young shooting guard in a league devoid of them, but he also carries an unfathomable amount of baggage that makes some executives, as Lowe said in his article, "recoil in horror at the very mention of his name".
And that's pretty sad.
On the court, Stephenson is a solid two-way player that appears ready for a breakthrough. His per-36 numbers have steadily improved over his four years in the NBA, and he achieved career highs in several categories this season. His True Shooting Percentage is up to .564, a very impressive mark for a player under 6'10" that isn't a shooting specialist. In addition, he grabbed a career-high 7.3 rebounds per 36 minutes, another excellent number for a player just 6'5".
That rebounding number comes with some criticism, though. Stephenson is notorious for stealing his teammates' rebounds, with Paces head coach Frank Vogel once remarking that he "steals them all from Roy (Hibbert). Roy is ready to get them and Lance comes in from the 3-point line off two feet." That could be seen as a strength from a coach's perspective, but from a player's perspective, it's often a slap in the face. Hibbert is routinely criticized for not playing up to his size, and averaged a career-low eight rebounds per 36 minutes this season. He was noticeably frustrated with the make-up of this year's Pacers, and cited selfishness as the reason for it. A dig at Stephenson? Maybe.
It's things like that, however, that make executives question the value of Stephenson. In the last few months alone, he was the center of two altercations with his own teammates. He and George Hill had to be separated by teammates during a game in March, and in April, he reportedly got into a fistfight with Evan Turner. Just what is it about Stephenson that gets under people's skin?
Okay, I get it.
Drama follows Stephenson everywhere he goes, and he's usually the cause of it. In 2008, he got into a fight with a high school teammate and was suspended for five days. That summer, he was cut from the U-18 national team for chemistry reasons. A few months later, Stephenson sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl. In 2010, he pushed his then-girlfriend down a flight of stairs and reportedly grabbed her and hit her head on the bottom step.
It's difficult to look beyond Stephenson's caustic personality when he seems oblivious to the damage he causes. Or maybe he just doesn't care. Either way, it is impossible to separate his on-court persona from his off-court persona because they are one and the same. It appears Lance Stephenson the basketball player acts with the same scorn and indignation as Lance Stephenson the person. The question is whether or not you can forgive him for past events (and, dare I say, future), and, by extension, whether his on-court brilliance is more beneficial than the detriment of his baggage.
Stephenson is 23 years old. It is entirely possible that he matures and blossoms into a well-rounded young man, but recent events show that he has a long way to go. So, should the Hornets take the risk?
The cap for the 2014-2015 season is projected to be $63.2 million. The Hornets, should they renounce Luke Ridnour and take his insane $8.2 million cap hold off the books, will have about $13 million to play with. That number jumps to nearly $16 million if they also renounce Chris Douglas-Roberts, Anthony Tolliver, and Jannero Pargo. Josh McRoberts' situation makes things a bit tricky, because his cap hold is a shade over $5 million and he has a player option for next season. Regardless, the Hornets should be able to take part in the Lance Stephenson sweepstakes.
Lowe speculates that Stephenson might see offers in the $6 million to $8 million per year range, but also suggests that he might see substantially larger offers, too. I imagine Stephenson could see offers as high as $12 million per year. While not ideal, there is more demand than supply for talented shooting guards, and that could make things crazy. Lowe reminds us of what happened with Gilbert Arenas, who was in a similar position six years ago.
If Stephenson commands in excess of $8.5 million per year, I hope the Hornets don't make an offer. While their cap situation looks golden for the next few seasons, the Bobcats' young core will require contract extensions and it's difficult to tell what they'll be worth. The team has been terrible for a while and only recently discovered success. The Hornets have built a promising culture and it would be a shame to see it fall to pieces with mismanaged investments and chemistry issues. Being cautious is key.
Still, Stephenson's talent is a huge plus for any team that lacks a star talent at shooting guard. The Hornets will have to be careful when they evaluate him. It's rare for players of Stephenson's caliber to find themselves on the open market at such a young age, and that's what makes this so difficult. Hopefully, they make the right decision.