Scott Fowler

Charlotte Hornets finally rid themselves of Lance Stephenson

Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) celebrates after hitting a shot against the Milwaukee Bucks  October 29, 2014. On Monday, Stephenson was traded away after only one season in Charlotte.
Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) celebrates after hitting a shot against the Milwaukee Bucks October 29, 2014. On Monday, Stephenson was traded away after only one season in Charlotte. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

That sigh of relief you hear today is from the Charlotte Hornets’ locker room, where the problem known as Lance Stephenson has suddenly disappeared.

The Hornets admitted what was a massive mistake and traded Stephenson away Monday night, shipping him to the L.A. Clippers for veterans Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes.

That doesn’t sound like much of a deal at first if you consider Stephenson is only 24 and if you limit yourself to watching his highlight tape. But if you watched Stephenson at all for entire games last season, you know that this had to happen, and sooner rather than later.

For the Hornets, Stephenson was a piece of gum in the coin slot of a vending machine – you insert him in there, and nothing good ever came out.

The Hornets were obviously desperate to get rid of Stephenson, and so finally they have. So even if Hawes and Barnes make no impact – and it sounds like Barnes is likely never play for the team at all – this was a good trade for Charlotte in an addition-by-subtraction sort of way.

“Sometimes things don’t work out and you have to move on,” Hornets general manager Rich Cho said Monday night.

This one sure didn’t work. Stephenson was awful in Charlotte. He couldn’t shoot, he looked lost without the ball, and he changed the dynamics of the locker room for the worse.

The Hornets went from a 43-win team two seasons ago to a 33-win team this season for a lot of reasons – Al Jefferson got hurt and looked old, Marvin Williams, Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston made no impact when it mattered – but the No. 1 reason was that Cho had a bad offseason in 2014. The prime example was the Stephenson acquisition.

It was never a good fit, but the Hornets were trying to come up with something after failing in a bid for Utah’s Gordon Hayward. Stephenson suddenly seemed desirable. And to be fair, he had led the NBA in triple-doubles the season before and been a good player for a very good team in Indiana.

But when asked to do more with a supporting cast that wasn’t as good as Indiana’s, Stephenson floundered.

You could have shot 3-pointers better than he did. Seriously.

Of every NBA players in history with at least 100 attempts in a single season from 3-point range, Stephenson last season shot the lowest percentage in history (17.1). The previous low had been Micheal Ray Richardson (18.8) in 1981-82.

I don’t think Stephenson will work out well for the Clippers either. He ultimately needs the ball a lot to be effective. And if he thinks that Kemba Walker dominates the ball in Charlotte, wait until he gets a load of Chris Paul.

Anyway, that’s not Charlotte’s problem anymore – thankfully. I have been advocating this trade since December. Watching Stephenson makes you grit your teeth, because it seemed like for every strong drive to the rim there were two bricks launched from 3-point land and then a turnover off a behind-the-back pass.

It wasn’t that Stephenson blew in LeBron James’ ear while in Charlotte like he infamously did while with Indiana. He acted like a professional when he quickly fell out of favor with coach Steve Clifford and got benched for long stretches. It wasn’t that he stopped trying.

It’s just that he could not play. The Hornets were not a good team last season, but they were even worse when Stephenson was in the game.

Hawes had a down season for the Clippers, too, so maybe a change of scenery will suit both players. But even if it does not, at least Stephenson is gone. “For whatever reason, it wasn’t a good fit,” Cho said.

It sure wasn’t. And at least the Hornets are no longer pretending that it could work out.

You know how sometimes you miss an exit on the highway and you keep on stubbornly going for awhile, not wanting to admit you’re going to have to turn around and backtrack? On Monday night, the Hornets turned around.

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