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Free agency answer for Charlotte Hornets? It’s not Lance Stephenson

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/10/20/32/N12ni.Em.138.jpeg|201
    Mike Ehrmann - Getty Images
    The Indiana Pacers’ Lance Stephenson, left, matches up with Miami’s LeBron James during the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/10/23/45/3QzyG.Em.138.jpeg|375
    AJ Mast - AP
    Indiana’s Lance Stephenson dunks during the first half Jan. 2, 2013, in Indianapolis.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/10/20/32/3ReUm.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Mike Ehrmann - Getty Images
    The Miami Heat’s LeBron James drives to the basket against the Indiana Pacers’ Lance Stephenson during the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/10/20/32/1aWax6.Em.138.jpeg|441
    Alex Trautwig - Getty Images
    The Indiana Pacers’ Lance Stephenson goes to the basket over Miami’s Chris Bosh during the NBA Eastern Conference finals .

Not Lance Stephenson.

Let’s start there, shall we? If the Charlotte Hornets don’t get Gordon Hayward – and it looks like they won’t – they don’t need to blow in the ear of Stephenson and whisper sweet nothings to get him to Charlotte.

Charlotte has a lot of money to spend, and throwing as much as humanly possible at Hayward is a good gamble. Hayward isn’t going to tug on LeBron James’ cape, as Stephenson has done repeatedly (flashing the “choke” sign after a missed LBJ free throw, blowing in James’ ear during the playoffs, calling James’ trash talk “a sign of weakness,” and on and on and on).

Hayward isn’t going to irritate his teammates and flop at the slightest provocation. He’s not going to lead the league in triple doubles, either – Stephenson did this season – but he’s the more consistent player and certainly the better bet.

Ride with Hayward and you have a fast car with seat belts and air bags. Ride with Stephenson and you have an occasionally faster car, but also one with no safety devices, as well as a car missing both its headlights with brakes that work only occasionally.

The Indiana Pacers have put up with all that because Stephenson can also be a very good player and because Larry Bird has decided to put up with it, and Larry Bird is a god in Indiana. But I don’t think Stephenson is the right fit in Charlotte.

I was talking with a former longtime NBA player Thursday with direct knowledge of the Hornets’ current locker room, which he called “clean” at the moment. He said it only takes one guy to change that dynamic though – especially if it’s a guy who’s a starter and has a powerful personality.

And that, my friends, is reason enough not to get into the Stephenson scrum.

As for Hayward: Despite that gaudy $63 million, four-year offer sheet, it sounds doubtful the Hornets are going to get him.

That’s because Utah, by all indications, plans to match the offer. Even when the price is ridiculously high, you almost have to match it if you are Utah because what’s the point otherwise? You’ve got a very fat wallet but you just lost your best player – the 24-year-old who averaged 16 points, five rebounds and five assists just last season?

So even though Utah hasn’t said so yet officially, that’s likely going to happen. I talked to three longtime NBA men Thursday about what they would do if they were the Jazz front office.

All three of them would like Hayward to come to Charlotte for various reasons. All three of them said it’s probably never going to happen.

That’s a shame, because Hayward would make all sorts of sense for Charlotte. Without him, the team may be reduced to trying to fill its “versatile wing scorer” role via the trade market. But that certainly is worth exploring. The Hornets have a lot of assets – future first-round picks, a stable of young players – and could leverage them in a number of ways.

And there’s also that thing your mother told you that money doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket. It doesn’t have to be spent right now at this very second. Once LeBron James decides where he’s going (I keep thinking it’s back to Miami) and then Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh sign their mega-deals, the rest of the free-agent dominoes can start falling into place.

The Hornets have got to do something to replace Josh McRoberts, to sign a veteran point guard to back up Kemba Walker and to figure out how to get some more outside shooting. There are a lot of options out there.

Lance Stephenson should not be one of them.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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