Everybody knows Lance Stephenson is a bad fit for the Charlotte Hornets. We all say so.
How many of us said so last July?
The Hornets had offered Utah’s Gordon Hayward a four-year contract for maximum money. They were trying to acquire a shooting guard star who would join starters Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and push this team to a place it had never been.
We all figured Utah would match Charlotte’s offer, but at least we could pretend. And when the Jazz forced us to stop pretending, we weren’t ready for the free-agent frenzy to end. The Hornets weren’t, either.
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On July 21 they signed Stephenson, a shooting guard consolation prize. He couldn’t shoot like Hayward. But at 6-5 he could do almost everything else, and he was tough.
In a conversation with a Hornets player last summer, I called the Walker-Stephenson backcourt intriguing. That’s not the word he used. He said the match was poor. I’m not naming the player because I took no notes and used no tape recorder. I didn’t interview him. We sat in a small room and talked.
Both players are from New York City, he emphasized, and both would require the ball.
If you’re trying to hold your place on a New York playground, you’re not going to shoot from 22-feet and the let the wind alter your shot. You’re going to the basket. Walker and Stephenson do, and they can’t go to the basket without the basketball.
Walker should have the ball. He creates for others as well as himself. That the team has a shot to make the playoffs is in large part a testament to him.
The Hornets needed a shooter, and Stephenson isn’t. But they knew that.
Stephenson can rebound and he can pass. But his passes aren’t quick. He can beat a defender off the dribble, but it’s a long dribble. When he goes into it, Time Warner Cable’s concession stands suddenly attract a crowd. Yet after finally beating his man he is an adept and willing passer.
Stephenson is unselfish. He averages 4.7 assists, which trails only Walker. He also averages 6.6 rebounds, which trails only Jefferson and Kidd-Gilchrist.
The Hornets must now unmake their mistake. Although the trade fell through Friday, they were willing to give up Stephenson for journeyman guard Jarrett Jack and Walker’s former Connecticut teammate, Jeremy Lamb.
I would jump at that trade. Jack is fearless, and he’s a good scorer. Lamb is 6-5, 22 years old and offers a commodity Charlotte lacks – a sweet 3-point shot. He’s buried at Oklahoma City, especially after the Thunder’s recent acquisition of Dion Waiters.
There are players we hear little about who could contribute and perhaps thrive in Charlotte.
But a trade involving Stephenson would be less about who joins the roster than who leaves it.