A dozen things worth noting on the Charlotte Hornets’ decision to sign Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson:
The Hornets weren’t looking to make this move: Stephenson’s quirky, sometimes emotional, behavior makes him a gamble. But when the Gordon Hayward offer sheet was matched by the Utah Jazz, and other options signed elsewhere, they had a decision to make: Sign Stephenson or potentially end up weaker than they were to end last season.
Starting lineup: Center Al Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker are locks. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist likely is at small forward. It’s an open competition between Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams at power forward. Stephenson figures to start at shooting guard unless Gerald Henderson clearly outplays him during the preseason.
Players most helped by this move: Jefferson if Stephenson respects the fact that Jefferson in the low-post continues to be the Hornets’ first offensive option. Walker because Stephenson can be the secondary ballhandler the Hornets lost when Josh McRoberts signed with the Miami Heat.
Players who could be most hurt by this move: Henderson. His starting spot is at risk, and there’s a crowd now at the position with Gary Neal and rookie P.J. Hairston also available.
What will happen to Jeff Taylor? Coach Steve Clifford had said he sees Taylor as someone who could play shooting guard as well as small forward. With all these shooting-guard alternatives, Taylor now figures to play primarily behind Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward.
Stephenson’s most obvious impact should be: Improved half-court scoring. He shot 49 percent from the field last season and 35 percent from 3-point range. The then-Bobcats were among the bottom-third in the 30-team NBA in every major offensive statistic.
His more subtle value could be: Competitiveness. This franchise is 0-for-8 in playoff games since the Bobcats’ inception in 2004. Stephenson might be high-strung, but no one intimidates him.
What Hornets won’t get from Stephenson: A McRoberts-like sense of being a teammate. The then-Bobcats were a “we” team last season in the best sense of the word. Stephenson can be a “me” kind of guy.
What was at stake? With the playoff appearance, the draft and the rebranding, this franchise was building genuine excitement in the community. Owner Michael Jordan made a comment about a potential “superstar” to pair with Jefferson. Striking out in free agency would have killed the buzz.
How will Stephenson mesh with Clifford? Clifford doesn’t sweat minutiae, but he’s a stickler about playing with discipline. If Stephenson doesn’t conform to that, it will reflect in his role.
The word from Indianapolis: “He can be a complete knucklehead at times. He’s a time bomb in the same way (Ron) Artest was forever poised to explode.” – Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz.
So what kept him in the Pacers’ good graces? Through the technical fouls, the choke signs, the blowing in LeBron James’ ear, Stephenson always had a supporter in Larry Bird, who runs the Pacers’ player personnel. “That’s my boy, you know that,” Bird told the Indianapolis Star before free agency began. “I’ll take care of him – if I can.”