The short, unsuccessful marriage between the Charlotte Hornets and shooting guard Lance Stephenson came to a sudden end Monday when the Hornets dealt him to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Hornets will receive big man Spencer Hawes and defensive specialist Matt Barnes from the Clippers, who are betting Stephenson can be more effective when teamed with All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in Los Angeles.
The Hornets signed Stephenson to a three-season contract last July after the Utah Jazz matched a maximum-salary offer sheet to restricted free agent Gordon Hayward. The Hornets met with Stephenson in Las Vegas during summer league, agreeing to terms where Stephenson was guaranteed two seasons at $9 million each. The 2016-17 season was a team option at $9.4 million.
Stephenson seemed a poor fit almost immediately. The Hornets needed better 3-point shooting –- they were last in the NBA at 31.8 percent last season – and Stephenson is more a driver who dominates the ball. The Hornets made numerous efforts to trade him, particularly with the Brooklyn Nets.
“Sometimes when you make a trade or a signing it just doesn’t work out well,” Hornets general manager Rich Cho said in a conference call. “He never fit in great.
“Sometimes you don’t know how (a player) will fit until he plays for your team.”
Stephenson went from a starter to a reserve to briefly a player out of the rotation entirely. Cho said he did not become a locker-room distraction despite his frustration with the situation.
“I thought Lance handled it really well,” Cho said. “I thought it was a shock to his system that he was not playing so much. But he handled it very professionally.”
Cho said he was under no orders to move Stephenson. However he reflected on owner Michael Jordan’s philosophy that well-run franchises acknowledge mistakes and act quickly to address them.
“There were no directives to trade Lance,” Cho said. “Just talking philosophy, what M.J. said is important: Give (an acquisition) some time to work out, but if it doesn’t work out, move on.”
Stephenson’s statistics last season – 8.2 points per game, 37 percent shooting from the field and 17 percent shooting from 3-point range – reflected a player who appeared out of place as a Hornet. He was far more effective as an Indiana Pacer, playing off impactful scorers Paul George and David West.
Yahoo Sports first reported late Monday afternoon that the Hornets and Clippers were in serious trade discussions involving Stephenson.
The Hornets are accepting additional payroll responsibility to make this trade happen. Stephenson would have come off the books at the end of next season, assuming the Hornets didn’t pick up his player option. Barnes’ contract expires after next season but Hawes is guaranteed $5.8 million in the 2016-17 season and has a $6 million player option in the 2017-18 season.
Hawes has a somewhat unorthodox skill set, but that could work in the Hornets’ favor. He’s a 7-footer, but offensively he’s better suited to playing along the perimeter. In an eight-season NBA career, playing for Sacramento, Philadelphia, Cleveland and the Clippers – he has made 35 percent of his 3-point attempts.
That could be useful playing power forward with Al Jefferson at center. Coach Steve Clifford needs better 3-point shooting to create spacing for Jefferson to operate low-post in the lane.
“One thing Spencer has done throughout his career is shoot the 3,” Cho said.
Barnes has played 12 NBA seasons for eight teams. He is owed $3.5 million this coming season, then his contract expires.
Barnes’ contract reportedly includes a clause that would reduce his guarantee to $1 million if he’s waived by July 1. Cho wouldn’t directly address that Monday night with media, but said the team will evaluate the situation in the coming weeks.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell