It seemed that from the moment the moratorium on trading players signed during the previous offseason was lifted at midnight last December 15 the Charlotte Hornets were looking to hit the undo button with Lance Stephenson. Brooklyn and Indiana were intrigued enough to entertain the idea, but neither brave enough to pull the trigger on a Stephenson deal. When the trade deadline came and went without a deal, it seemed the Hornets were stuck with Stephenson like a regrettable tattoo. Which reminds me, hopefully none of you got a Lance Stephenson tattoo last summer.
On Tuesday night, the Hornets finally found a taker for Stephenson: the Los Angeles Clippers. By now you've heard the Clippers sent back Spencer Hawes and swingman Matt Barnes in return for Stephenson, making the deal immediately seem favorable for Los Angeles. Despite a disastrous season in Charlotte, Stephenson still has the upside to give the Clippers the much-needed upgrade on the perimeter they were seeking. Simultaneously, Doc Rivers was able to hit undo on his own error last summer by moving Hawes.
Stephenson's 2014-'15 campaign was so bad that it was almost impressive. Not only was Stephenson rumored to be the source of the team's inner turmoil, but his production slid so much that he went from starting a 150 combined games the previous two seasons to just 25 this season. To be clear, Lance Stephenson isn't a bad guy; he just needs the right type of environment in order for his presence to benefit both sides. Charlotte was not that place and going to a team with Doc Rivers and Chris Paul will provide that for him.
For the Hornets, this makes less sense. Barnes is likely a non-factor as he will likely be gone by July 1 since only $1 million of his salary for next season is guaranteed until that point. At the age of 35 with other more viable options on the wings, it only makes sense that the minutes go to players like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who have greater value to the team. Now, if this was 2009 Matt Barnes I would be all about fitting him in somewhere in the rotation.
As for Hawes, he is still just 27 years old but coming off of the worst season of his career. Arguably, Hawes can be as obnoxious as Stephenson in his own way. Yet, the Hornets will be banking that Hawes can return to his pre-2014 form, and it's likely that Hawes will come in seeking redemption.
A lot of people have made the comparison to Josh McRoberts who left for Miami last summer, but that's not a perfect comparison. Hawes has a bit more height on McRoberts; and although he isn't quite on McRoberts' level as a distributor, Hawes has been a more proficient rebounder over the course of his career. Both players can stretch the floor some when they're on their game, but both contrast each other just enough in other areas.
While Hawes could provide the floor spreading ability the Hornets so desperately lack, he could still be an iffy fit. Playing Hawes with Al Jefferson could be a disaster, defensively. Hawes of course is listed as both a power forward and center, but that means 1) having Hawes play center and Jefferson try to defend quicker, smaller forwards; and 2) taking crucial developmental minutes away from Vonleh and Zeller at the four.
At the Hive's very own Chris Barenwall has said that it's unlikely Hawes plays that much, but Hawes is still due $11.2 million over the next two years and has a $6 million dollar player option for the 2017-'18 season. That's too much money for a big man who shot 39.6 percent from the field last season, even if the cap is going to jump. That's also more money than you need to be spending on a backup center when you have so much young frontcourt talent already. So, two things are going to have happen: Hawes is going to have to play better and therefore earn more playing time. Ideally, that means Hawes rediscovering his shot, not taking too many minutes from the young players, and the Hornets having a little thing we call "depth."
If not, the Hornets have a sunk cost on the bench at nearly $6 million dollars per year for the next three years and nobody wants that. Especially since they could have ridden things out with Stephenson for another year instead and have had even more cap space than they are set to for the 2016-'17 season.
Overall it feels like the Hornets did the Clippers a favor. General Manager Doc Rivers had locked his team into an unfavorable cap position in large part because of the Hawes deal last summer and got Richard Cho to do him a favor by taking Barnes' contract off of his hands.
It's also hard not to look at this deal and feel like the Hornets may could have done more. Sure, there's a chance that Hawes will bounce back next season, but it feels as if this was a deal that could have happened any time before July 1. Ideally, it would have been nice to see the Hornets try to make a better move through the draft or via a draft night trade. Maybe there weren't any better options available and the market for Stephenson was really that shallow, but it feels as if the Hornets could have done better. It's just hard to believe this deal wouldn't have still been on the table two weeks from now.
So, here's to optimism. Here's to hoping that Spencer Hawes becomes the productive role player he has been for the previous years of his career and provides the Clippers with the spacing and frontcourt depth they've been seeking. Here's to hoping my initial impressions of this trade turn out to be wrong.