Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker could both be gone after the next two seasons in Charlotte, so the window was quite clear for this core unit. Jordan publicly stated before free-agency started that he hoped to lure another big name to Charlotte to compliment the core that Cho has already built. The Hornets made everyone wait, but the ripple can be seen in the water when it comes to this roster now. The controversial Lance Stephenson will be a Hornet for at least the next two seasons.
Doug Branson, Greg Pietras, and Spencer Percy discuss what this signing means.
1. Plug Lance Stephenson into the Charlotte Hornets starting lineup. How exactly does he fit, or not, with this roster?
Spencer Percy (@QCHspencer): Stephenson should immediately become the starting SG for Charlotte. It will be interesting to see how he’s able to co-exist in the same offense as Al Jefferson, but this is a clear upgrade from Gerald Henderson at the position.
Stephenson is an extremely versatile offensive player – above average overall scorer and passer. Solid ball-handler. Stephenson has all of the tools, but his decision making can be very skeptical from time-to-time. Most notable, he can be a ball-stopper, which is also the case for Jefferson. Clifford has his work cut out to make this an offense that can be above-average in efficiency.
Doug Branson (@QCHdoug): Lance has spent time as a starter and a sixth man but I think he’s a bonafide starter in the NBA and we gave him starter money. What you worry about is his penchant for trying to take over a game. I assume that Clifford still plans to run this offense through Big Al Jefferson. But he has a vast array of ways to score and shutdown defensive intensity. His game is one of the more complete games in the NBA and if he didn’t come with baggage he would have easily garnered Hayward money on the open market.
Greg Pietras (@Handles_Messiah): He replaces Gerald Henderson in the starting lineup immediately, and basically serves as a souped-up version of Hendo. Better rebounding, better passing, a slightly better shooter, (probably) better defense. It’s hard to argue that he isn’t an upgrade, especially if he continues to grow, but I think Gordon Hayward would have been the better fit. Lance’s three-point shot is fine and still developing, but he’s not going to fix some of the spacing issues they ran into last year. Then again, his advantage over Hayward on defense means they can stay focused on that side of the ball and just coast on offense.
What will really help is depth — Henderson’s become a strangely popular punching bag this offseason, but he’d be a terrific sixth man at both wing spots. Shifting him to the bench will give them a steady scorer and help keep the defense from falling off a cliff, as it was prone to last year. Things are crowded in the backcourt right now, and we’ll probably see a trade before the season, but I hope the team holds on to Henderson over Gary Neal or Jeff Taylor.
2. This contract — $27 million over three years — with a team option in the third year is glorious. Right?
Spencer: Glorious. While many believed that the Hornets would ultimately have to explore a sign-and-trade for Stephenson, I always got the feeling that Stephenson’s market value was being driven down significantly. This is simply what you see when big name free-agents take this long to be signed – very similar to how Charlotte ended up re-signing Henderson last summer. The Hornets ended up basically being the only team in the league that was seriously interested in Stephenson after Lance laughed at the Pacers initial offer and Houston didn’t match Chandler Parsons, allowing Dallas to land him (Mavs second option would’ve been Stephenson). Charlotte allowed the market become a dust-bowl for Stephenson and then simply went barely over the top of the Pacers initial offer – Pacers offer would have been for $8.8mil/year, Hornets will be worth $9mil/year. It’s also a calculated risk for Stephenson because of the lucrative TV money that’s expected to come down the pipe in two seasons, so if he cleans his act up in the next two seasons and remains being productive on the court, a much bigger payday could be coming.
The team-option in the final year of this deal is the real winner. It only locks Charlotte into two-years of guaranteed money going to Stephenson + fits perfectly into the two-year window that this core has (Kemba, Jefferson & Williams all likely UFA in ’16-17).
Doug: It’s huge and I think it shows that the divide in Indiana was more than dollars and cents. Lance didn’t want to be locked into a five year deal and I think part of him wanted to be wanted. Didn’t get that vibe from Indiana. This deal gives ample compensation for his talents while protecting the financial security of the Hornets and POSSIBLY opening up one more move to bring in Carlos Boozer off of secondary waivers.
Greg: Yep, it’s short enough to limit their risk while the team option gives them a certain amount of control. It works out for Stephenson, too — it’s not much more per year than what the Pacers reportedly offered, but he’ll be able to test the market sooner. The salary cap is set to make a major jump in two years, and Lance is a young, improving player, so unless he implodes he’s set himself up for a much bigger deal. Locking himself into a five-year deal that underpaid him would have probably been a mistake, even though it gave him a little more security.
3. Best-case scenario for the Hornets next season now that they’ve made that big splash that everyone was waiting on in free-agency?
Spencer: Number-two in the eastern conference. If Jefferson comes anywhere close to the output he produced this past season, Kemba continues his progression, and Stephenson adds that vital third scoring punch while maturing into more of a positive leader – well, this roster could force the eastern conference finals to run through the city of Charlotte.
Note: this isn’t a prediction, but it is a realistic best-case scenario.
Doug: This signing makes us more than competitive in this suddenly revamped Southeast Division. We should be thanking Chris Bosh and Paul Pierce for really forcing the Hornets’ hand. A 2 or even 3 seed is absolutely a possibility and that’s without bringing in Boozer off of waivers. Best case is the Eastern Conference Finals, realistic case is making the second round and seeing how much damage we can do with match-ups. The East gained & redistributed some talent this offseason, but overall it is still weak and ripe for the Hornets to swoop…or swarm in.
Greg: The East is going to be so, so competitive next year, and a lot of the teams ahead of Charlotte improved as well. I think 44-47 wins is realistic, and I’d expect them to claw their way into a sixth or seventh seed. They got better, no doubt, but they could still end up a fringe playoff team if things don’t pan out the right way. Best-case scenario, though, is that they start hot, make an impact trade with all of their loose pieces at the deadline, top 50 wins and sneak into a top-four seed. I think that’s a little optimistic, but weirder things have happened.