The Charlotte Hornets announced the signing of unrestricted free agent Lance Stephenson to a three-year, $27 million deal with a team option on the last year. After swinging and missing on restricted free agent Gordon Hayward, Stephenson represents a nice consolation prize.
Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers are looking at one fewer offensive option on a team starved for offense. Here's a quick look at how this move impacts the Pacers, Hornets and Stephenson himself.
Charlotte had its own offensive struggles last season (albeit not as severe as Indiana's), and Stephenson goes a long way to helping the Hornets in that respite. He's a strong, sturdy guard who can legitimately play three positions. His dribble penetration skills force defenses to collapse, and his size and strength allow him to finish at the rim. While he's no drop-dead shooter, Stephenson has improved every season and shot a career-high 35 percent on 244 3-point attempts last season -- respectable for a guy who made just four 3-pointers two seasons ago.
He's also a willing passer with good vision for an off guard. No doubt, however, the biggest perk to adding a talent like Stephenson is his contribution on the defensive end, where his strength and wingspan allow him to effectively defend a variety of positions. We laugh at his ear-blowing antics during the playoffs, but the truth is he did a great job of making LeBron James and Dwyane Wade work hard.
The key to this deal for Charlotte was the structure of the contract: at $9 million flat for the next two years, the Hornets are clearly taking a risk that Stephenson will continue to mature and earn his salary, with Michael Jordan taking on the role of Larry Bird as sage mentor who will kick the 23-year-old in the backside when necessary. However, the third year is a team option, so this simultaneously gives the Hornets a "carrot" to dangle in front of Stephenson. It's a nice mix of incentive and punishment.
If you're an eternal optimist, you could look at this departure as good riddance -- Stephenson was always erratic, and while the first half of 2013-14 saw him focused and on his best behavior, it all unraveled toward the end. But make no mistake, his contributions will be missed. Stephenson was, many times, the primary offensive initiator for this Pacers team: George Hill isn't a prototypical point guard, and Paul George hasn't shown the ability to continuously generate offense and shoulder the burden for his team.