Spencer Hawes turned a career year with the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 into a four year, $23 million contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. At the time, it was hailed as a huge upgrade for the Clippers who were looking to replace the struggling Ryan Hollins. But it never seemed to click for Hawes in Los Angeles.
A knee injury bothered him early in the season and he never seemed to figure out how to get going with reserve minutes after starting for most of his career. His field goal percentage was well below 40. The three-point shooting that helped land him his long-term contract vanished. He would finish the season out of Doc Rivers' playoff rotation and averaging the worst scoring (12.0 points per 36 minutes) and efficiency numbers (9.8 PER) of his career, according to Basketball Reference.
"It's the way life goes sometimes. Sometimes the situations you look at on paper that seem like they're going to be the best fit end up on the other end of the spectrum," Hawes said at the Hornets' Media Day on Friday. He made it clear he wasn't going to dwell on the recent past.
Neither are the Hornets. They dealt a huge disappointment of their own in Lance Stephenson to the Clippers in exchange for Hawes and the three years left on his deal. The two players had eerily similar seasons. Both joined new teams with high expectations. Both were coming off of career years. Both struggled mightily from beyond the arc and plummeted out of their respective rotations. Lance will get a shot to return to form in a reserve role for the Clippers. Will Spencer get his shot in a crowded Hornets front court?
If his shooting numbers from beyond the arc even remotely resemble his 27 games in Cleveland — where he shot 45 percent and made nearly three per game — then the Hornets have a fantastic alternative to Al Jefferson down low and perhaps even a complement. He's 7 feet tall but meshed well with Tristan Thompson. The Hornets would love to get the Hawes from Philly, too, when over a third of his shot attempts were 3-pointers and he posted a respectable 55 percent true shooting. You have to take them to make them, but according to Hawes, he can't make it the focus of his game.
"I'm trying to recommit myself to not being so one dimensional, getting back to being a more well-rounded big guy and not just depending on the 3-point shot"
He's known for being a terrific passer for a big, something the Hornets have been longing for since McRoberts' departure a couple of seasons ago. Hawes is also a respectable post defender as long as you forget the last few years in Tankadelphia. He has long arms and consistently keeps his block percentage over three and flirts with four. It's when you stick him at power forward that Hawes struggles to keep up with quicker offensive players. He'll definitely have to improve that to break Clifford's rotation or have any shot at playing beside Big Al.
But ultimately the Hornets, who shot a league low 31.1 percent from three last year, will need someone who can space the floor not only for Al Jefferson, but newly acquired slashers Jeremy Lin and Jeremy Lamb. Doc Rivers would tell the media that minutes are earned, in reference to Hawes. The same goes for shot respect. He'll have to have a great camp and an even better start to the season if he wants defenders to forget his year out west.
For what it's worth, Hawes isn't out there throwing platitudes around. He's honest about the issues he had last season and seems bent on fixing them. The road back from NBA infamy to NBA notoriety is complex, but the lessons learned from his time in Los Angeles are simple.
"You teach yourself not to go crazy...to control what you can control," Hawes said.