With their options to improve the team rapidly dwindling, the Hornets made a move on one of the most talented players still available and came to an agreement to sign former Pacer Lance Stephenson to a three-year contract worth a little more than $27 million, as reported by the Charlotte Observer.
Stephenson's contract is $9 million a year in the first two seasons, and then the third year is a team option worth a little more than that.
What the Hornets get in Stephenson
Stephenson's burgeoning skill set is a tantalizing one. His sharp handle and instincts whether to dance on the perimeter to freeze his defender or to bulldoze them into the paint make him a scary player to defend. He's not extremely athletic in the vertical sense, but he understands how to fool defenders into jumping and can hit shots through contact.
His jump shot has improved every year, leaving us with a decent 35.2 percent success rate from behind the arc. It's not great, but if Stephenson continues to improve, he could become a terrific player from inside and out, making him one of the more dynamic scorers in the league.
His defense is well above average, and no doubt learned the ins and outs of fantastic defense not only individually, but as a part of the team defense, while on the Pacers. He's tenacious and has great size for a guard. He'll assuredly fit in well in Steve Clifford's defense.
On the minus side, he's still got a ways to go to improve some of his game's finer points. Stephenson can get a little wild and carried away when driving, resulting in turnover-prone possessions. He sometimes loses focus while handling the ball in these situations and leaves it unprotected for the plucking. Expect the Hornets coaching staff to try to drill some more discipline into his game.
The reason he wasn't so highly sought after with his talents at only 23 years old were not only some of the questions in his game, but his character issues. The blowing in the ear stuff during the playoffs are little peculiarities and may ruffle some feathers, but the worst of his history is a vicious assault charge from four years ago. He's avoided any other off-the-court troubles since then, so hopefully he's matured.
How's the fit?
Stephenson could probably be the starting shooting guard from Day 1. His scoring efficiency was slightly less than Gerald Henderson's last year (surprisingly, I might add) but he's a better rebounder, shooter and possibly a better defender, though that's not easy to quantify. Though he isn't a knockdown shooter, they can plug him in at shooting guard right now and their offense should be even better, and their defense should be downright scary.
With his age, he should become even better, so the Hornets could have gotten themselves another great addition for years to come with the chance to become an All-Star caliber player.
With Stephenson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at the wings, the Hornets' perimeter defense just got even better. And their bench depth just became terrific with Henderson's defensive talents and experience. Charlotte now has a glut of shooting guards -- Stephenson, Henderson, Gary Neal, P.J. Hairston -- so it will be interesting to see if they'll trade one of those guys or perhaps they'll be able to play Henderson at small forward at times. It looks like something has to give with all those guys fighting for minutes.
The question of chemistry with Stephenson in the mix is a tough one. His antics have proved divisive among fans, but the tensions in the locker room in Indiana last season could be more worrisome. As the Pacers crumbled in the last couple months of the regular season, Roy Hibbert complained aloud "Some selfish dudes in here." He didn't point out who he was talking about but just in regards to his lack of touches on the offensive end.
Is it a good deal?
The value of this deal is outrageous. To secure Stephenson for three years at $9 million a year with a team option in the third year is outstanding. It alleviates the risk of possible off-the-court problems since they won't be locked into him for more than two years, at the least.
Charlotte desperately wanted to upgrade their talent from the wing after losing out on Gordon Hayward, and they got one of the best young players in Stephenson, though his further development is not without questions. He's got the tools to improve further and to become a dynamic weapon on offense. His fit isn't perfect -- he's not the shooter that would perfectly stretch the floor from all over, but his shot is coming along and his skills should improve Charlotte's offense already.