Lance Stephenson: Why The Hornets Should (And Shouldn’t) trade him


The Hornets have lost guard Lance Stephenson until Christmas due to a Pelvic strain, according to the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell.

With trade rumors running rampant across the NBA about Stephenson’s ability, and more specifically the possibility of Lance Stephenson being traded to his hometown of Brooklyn for the likes of All-Stars Brook Lopez or Joe Johnson, it is time to assess the pros and cons of one of these deals actually happening.

Guest writer Ankit Mehra, founder of New York Sports Hub and an avid New York sports writer, joins me as we assess the pros of the deal

The Deal:

Charlotte Hornets Receive: Joe Johnson

Brooklyn Nets Receive: Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, Bismack Biyombo

Why The Hornets Should Do it – Zimmermann

In the three games Charlotte has played without him, Charlotte is 3-0. Granted, they were facing the historically awful Philadelphia 76ers, the lowly Utah Jazz, and the Denver Nuggets, but still, it counts for something.

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer explained part of the Hornets success against their last two opponents:

"“Clifford has an expression for bad ball-movement, saying the ball “sticks.” It never stuck against the 76ers and the Jazz.“The ball is moving,” Clifford said. “When you go 21 (assists) and five (turnovers) that’s what you want. Three of the last four halves our execution” has been really good.”"

The fact that Charlotte beat these two teams, by comfortable margins I might add, leaves a lot to imagination about Stephenson’s positive(?) influence on this squad.

It does so much so that it may just be enough to trigger the Charlotte front office to make a deal out of the high-profile guard, now that they have legitimate evidence that proves they can still win without him.

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So, if the Hornets can win two straight with huge margins of victory without Stephenson, what if they could take that player and trade him for an ALL-STAR?

Sign me up for that.

Adding an All Star to this team, of which it possesses none, could do wonders for the confidence and chemistry of this team, especially among reports from The Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn saying that “According to league sources, Stephenson has clashed with teammates.”

Finding some stability and more veteran leadership, rather than the run and gun young player that Lance is, to be in the locker room could turn this team around by the All-Star Break. Bringing in Joe Johnson makes this team an entire new entity and opens up the door for success, right now.

Why The Nets Should Do it – Mehra

The Brooklyn Nets are in a position where they need to restart. Clearly the move to Brooklyn has not brought the success it was supposed to initiate, and with Mikhail Prokhorov having shattered the NBA salary cap in order to trade for the aging veterans in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, and Andrei Kirilenko, while trading for Joe Johnson in the previous summer, mediocrity has plagued the team.

The Nets need to start fresh and that is exactly what Lance Stephenson would hypothetically bring to Lionel Hollins inconsistent rotation. While there have been reports of Stephenson debilitating the Charlotte Hornets roster this season, both internally and externally, and with Stephenson having expressed an interest to go play basketball in his home of Brooklyn, it seems as though his ways could change.

Stephenson, 24, has averaged 10.2 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, 4.8 assists per game, and 0.8 steals per game, but what stands out when looking at his production is his shooting efficiency. Stephenson has been incredibly lackadaisical this season as he is currently shooting 38.6% from the field, 15.1% from three point range, and 63.5% from the free throw line. Though Billy King may be wary of this drop-off in shooting, Stephenson’s marketability and multi-faceted approach to the game could garner the justified interest Brooklyn seems to already have for the young two-guard.

As of right now, Johnson currently slots in as the small forward on Brooklyn, a position Stephenson could play, but at shooting guard, the competition presented ahead of Stephenson is average at best as Bojan Bogdanovic, Alan Anderson, and Markel Brown provide his competition for minutes. At small forward, Stephenson would be partnered with the meager Sergey Karasev to gain minutes.

For Charlotte, Johnson makes perfect sense. Johnson, 33, can provide the veteran leadership that Charlotte needs on their young roster, and after next season, he and his $23 million per year contract, will be off the books leaving space for the Hornets to be major players in free agency.

On the flip side, Stephenson being a relatively young player on a veteran filled Nets roster consisting of Kevin Garnett, and Deron Williams notably, will thrive. Coaches have called out his lack of maturation, and with experienced veterans with championship experience there, it will be incumbent for them to act.

As for Marvin Williams and Bismarck Biyombo, they provide solidified depth and experience that seems to be lacking from the Nets rotational schemes this season. In Biyombo, Hollins is receiving a defensive oriented, shot blocking role player and in Williams, Brooklyn is receiving an efficient floor spacer at the four capable of stepping into a mid-range shot, as well as connecting from behind the arc.

The trade would be a win-win for both teams, but of course there are negatives to be addressed.

Why The Hornets Shouldn’t Do it – Zimmermann

Ok, so the addition of Joe Johnson and scrapping of the Lance Stephenson project in hopes of a midseason playoff surge sounds great, but is it worth the long time consequences?

Those longtime consequences, you ask?

$48 million over the next two seasons. Those are franchise-crippling figures when you are a young team with aspiring championship hopes, which is what Charlotte is (or, was, before this season went so horribly wrong?)

They are especially crippling if you are a team that will need their cap space to attract further free agents to add to their playoff racing roster. Also, there needs to be money to resign Big Al to a new deal, either after this season or the next. Losing Big Al would be a blow that the city of Charlotte wouldn’t be able to handle.

With big names like Al Horford and Kevin Durant available in the summer of 2016, and guys like Paul Millsap, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe, Kevin Love, and likely Goran Dragic available in the summer of 2015, tying up future salary with an aging Joe Johnson is not a wise move.

As much success as this move could bring now, it is unrealistic to think this team can compete with even just the East’s top dogs, and even making the playoffs from their current position is unlikely. As much as I want to win now, I still want a chance at winning later. If that means a goose-egg season this year, so be it.

Why The Nets Shouldn’t Do it – Mehra

While Stephenson has been regarded as a proven talent in seasons past, his efficiency drop is evident. As described above, Stephenson has regressed tremendously on the shooting front as he has dropped his percentages to shooting 38.6% from the field, 15.1% from three point range, and 63.5% from the free throw line.

Over the course of his four year career in the NBA, Stephenson has shot 45.5% from the field, 30.8% from three point range, and 67.5% from the free throw line. Those numbers are particularly standout, but it shows Stephenson has the talent, but a clear regression has been made.

To me, Billy King would be a bit overzealous to pull off this trade. At this point, Joe Johnson has been the only reason the Nets are in contention in the meager Eastern Conference, but bringing in a controversial figure in Stephenson may disrupt a locker room already having to adjust to a new coaching staff and the new acquisitions brought in this offseason and through midseason trades.

Having had disputes with coaches and players alike during his time with both the Indiana Pacers and Hornets, Stephenson could potentially decimating the limited chemistry established under Hollins reign.

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For the Nets, a team looking to make advancements and play playoff basketball, losing Joe Johnson’s 16.3 points per game on 45.6% shooting is a major blow considering Stephenson’s erratic shooting this season. The Nets, currently 11-15, would suffer a major blow and would require inexperienced players such as 2014 draft picks, Cory Jefferson and Markel Brown, putting a potential damper on their playoff aspirations.

Billy King is known for making shrewd moves, but the fact of the matter remains that both Lance Stephenson could be a cancer to the Nets locker room and on-court chemistry while also being a down point in regards to his current level of play.

While he may be able to return to the form he endured during times with the Pacers, Stephenson looks lost this season and does not look to be the same player that was capable of carrying a team.

While fans should be rightfully calling for the adroit Stephenson to come to Brooklyn, King must be careful especially if the sacrifice is giving up the lone player who might be the difference between a lottery pick and playoff basketball.

The Deal:

Charlotte Hornets Receive: Brook Lopez

Brooklyn Nets Receive: Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams

Why The Hornets Should Do it – Zimmermann

A situation similar to the Joe Johnson deal, the Hornets need some immediate help if they wish to turn this nightmarish season around.

Brook Lopez, whose low post skills are tantalizing and his surprisingly rangy jumper make for a unique and scary offensive weapon, can make a big difference on Charlotte’s slow moving offense.

Pairing Lopez at the power forward slot with Big Al Jefferson would immediately form the best frontcourt in the East, talent-wise.

Giving Kemba Walker another weapon down low could prove to fix the problem in the Charlotte attack, as Cody Zeller is not a solid go-to offensive weapon.

Lopez’s craftiness in the paint will open up a lot of shots for Kemba and shooters like Gary Neal or Brian Roberts. Just look at the defense Lopez commands when he is on his game:

Defending the Charlotte halfcourt offense would instantly become a gameplay nightmare for opponents.

Why The Nets Should Do it – Mehra

Brook Lopez is an enigma to me. He is a center with one of the best offensive touches I’ve seen with a career scoring average of 17.9 points per game, but what stifles me is the fact that a seven footer is incapable of producing more than the meager 7.2 rebounds he has averaged per season over his six seasons in the NBA.

Lopez, 26, could be a superstar in the NBA, but due to his inability to be a productive force on the defensive end, his fame could be fleeting. Given Lopez’s injury history, and the anxiety surrounding his foot and back, it is best to trade the declining center while he still has value.

The main question that this trade triggers is where Lopez would slot in with Al Jefferson solidified as the starting center for the Hornets. The answer is actually quite simple. With Williams, alongside Stephenson, going over to Brooklyn, an opening is created at the four spot triggering Lopez and his adept mid-range shot to slot in perfectly.

This would thus create space for P.J. Hairston to develop his game further with the larger role, while also making Charlotte’s hypothetical front court of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Brook Lopez, and Al Jefferson one of the most potent front courts in basketball.

One of the best things about Lopez is the fact that he is young and still developable. This could go a long way in swinging Billy King in favor of the trade. You might be wondering why he would want to give up a young asset; something that has been a rare spark factor for the Nets in the past few season, but Lopez’s age could be the deciding factor in persuading the Hornets to give up Lance Stephenson.

This deal, while risky, provides the Nets with the option to start Mason Plumlee. New York Sports Hub’s Rob Cosgrove recently published a piece on why Plumlee is essential to Brooklyn achieving their goal of playoff basketball, and it would be wise for the Nets to rid themselves of Lopez’s contract and develop a strong starting lineup of Deron Williams, Stephenson, Johnson, Kevin Garnett, and Plumlee.

This also works in the same essence for the Hornets as they would then be able to possess a lineup consisting of Kemba Walker, Hairston, Kidd-Gilchrist, Lopez, and Jefferson, potentially turning around a relatively desolate season thus far, and squeaking them into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference.

Moving Lopez should be in Billy King and the Brooklyn Nets’ best interests and unless there is a miraculous turn of events and Lopez becomes a potent force on the defensive end, it is unlikely he continues to play for Brooklyn come April.

Why The Hornets Shouldn’t Do it – Zimmermann

While the craftiness from Lopez down low would create open shots for the guards in Charlotte, that is only true when Lopez is in the game. Or even active that night.

The main idea is that Lopez cannot stay healthy if his NBA finals ring depended on it. Oh, wait he doesn’t have one? Oh, yeah, my bad. Of course he doesn’t.

Lopez has had an awful history of injury, as he played in just 5 games in 2011-2012, 17 games in 2013-2014, and just 16 so far this season.

Is that kind of inconsistent playing worth the $32 million Charlotte would owe him over the next two seasons? Absolutely not.

You can’t dish out that kind of cash for a guy who may suit up for less than half of the games in each season.

Also, something that hasn’t been mentioned is that Lance Stephenson is not dead in the water. The swingman still has a lot of potential, and that potential can be actualized in Charlotte. Sure, a homecoming in Brooklyn would be a great story line, but so would a championship.

If Charlotte can work out their differences with Stephenson and turn him into the player that he was in Indiana last season, then this team has a real future. It is just too early to give up on the Cincinatti product.

I strongly doubt that Michael Jordan, who played a big role in signing Stephenson, wants to give him up for an aging veteran or an injury prone lanky center.

Why The Nets Shouldn’t Do it – Mehra

The only downside I truly see in this deal is the fact that Lopez provides a youthful boost to a Brooklyn Nets team that is desperately in need of one.

As of right now, the crop of youth on the Nets currently consists of Markel Brown, Cory Jefferson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Sergey Karasev, and most notably Mason Plumlee. Aside from Plumlee and Lopez, the future seems bleak for this Nets team. Lopez is a proven end on the offensive end, and if he can put in that extra effort on the defensive end then he will be able to become a dynamic player in the NBA capable of producing night in and night out, and most importantly, being able to recruit players to come and play in Brooklyn.

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As of right now, the nucleus of the current Nets roster in Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson, and Deron Williams will be dismantled due to the failed experiment leaving Lopez to be a catalyst for any future success.

The recurring theme with Lance Stephenson, as said earlier, is the fact that he is a potential cancer to the locker room and with the current form he is enduring, he might be a cancer on the court as well. Stephenson is touch and go, and Lopez is a lackadaisical presence on defense so it’s a risk by keep one or trading for the other.

King should weigh his cards correctly. My vote of confidence goes to trading Brook Lopez for Lance Stephenson rather than trading Joe Johnson for Stephenson. The only reason I say this is because of the windows it would open up for the Nets and because it allows for growth on the Hornets with their power forward woes being solved.

The trade would need to be a win-win for both teams if it is to be completed, and the fact that Lopez is a young, offensive powerhouse may swing Brooklyn into keeping him due to their scarce young talent. If the Nets are to swing a trade, it would only be by trading Lopez. Johnson is too valuable to their playoff aspirations, and the addition of Stephenson could further those, but by trading Lopez and his injury history, a new window of hope would arise in Brooklyn.

 Final Verdict

Mehra: If it comes down to trading Brook Lopez or Joe Johnson, only pull the trigger if it’s Lopez, otherwise, pull out. The Nets will go as far as Johnson takes them so trading him would be putting the nail in the coffin.

Zimmermann: Despite all the evidence that favors trading Lance Stephenson for Charlotte, these deals are not the right ones. Bringing back fat contracts or IR constants for what could still turn out to be a superstar is unwise.

Next: P.J. Hairston shines in win