It didn't take long for Lance Stephenson to wear out his welcome in Charlotte. They are only 24 games into the experiment and already may be looking to pull the plug, according to an ESPN report that says sources have told them the Hornets are exploring options to move him. Monday was the first day that players signed to new contracts last July are eligible to be traded, so expect trade talk to heat up now that this deadline is behind us.
The news isn't all that surprising, given that the Hornets are off to a disappointing 6-18 start and could be looking to shake things up. Grantland's Zach Lowe reported earlier this month that the Hornets have been aggressive making trade calls, shopping just about anyone on their roster outside of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. If Stephenson is being floated as a potential buy-low option, should the Celtics be interested?
I'll preface this by pointing out that I'm not a fan of Lance Stephenson. He's a head-case, he's prone to bad decision making and he could potentially become toxic in the locker room if he's unhappy. It would be risky to introduce a wildcard like Stephenson into the group of impressionable young talent on this Celtics roster. Teams will put up with an enigma like Stephenson as long as he's producing, but his shooting has been abysmal this year. His field goal percentage has plummeted to 38.7% and his long range stroke has abandoned him, as he's hit only 8-of-51 (15.7%) from beyond the arc. This isn't exactly uncharted territory for Stephenson either, as it shows he's regressed to the level he was at when he was a seldom used bench warmer during his first two seasons in the league. Might this suggest that last year's break-out season was an aberration?
Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes that Stephenson's struggles are the result of the pressure of raised expectations, which suggests that he can still bounce back once he becomes acclimated to his new environment.
"To be fair, one of the things that's made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar," said Clifford. "He's not a star. He's a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years."
Perhaps having his new team give up on him so soon would be a rude awakening for the 24-year old with a history of maturity issues. That could be the push he needs to buckle down and focus on tapping into his potential.
That potential is clearly there. We got a glimpse of it last season when he broke out with a borderline All-Star caliber campaign. Stephenson averaged a well rounded 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists with career high shooting percentages while playing for a contending Indiana Pacers team. He also led the league in triple-doubles last season - which is a bit of a superficial accomplishment, but it would still be fun for he and Rajon Rondo to compete for that honor while playing alongside each other.
Any hypothetical trade talk for the Celtics acquiring Stephenson has to start with Avery Bradley, who can't be traded until January 15th. Boston would also have to include a low-salary player like Vitor Faverani in order to make the salary cap math work, given that Stephenson's $9 million salary is a bit higher than Bradley's ($7.2 million).
Would Boston consider trading Bradley for Stephenson? Probably not, considering the 4-year, $32 million deal they handed Bradley last summer shows how high they are on his future. They paid him based on what they expect him to become, not based on what he's been worth thus far in his career. It's still early into this new contract, but so far we haven't seen much of this growth the Celtics were hoping for. If anything, he's taken a slight step back this year, with declines in scoring, rebounding and assists.
Stephenson has his warts, but even when his shot isn't falling he is still a far superior rebounder and play-maker. Bradley is a better on-ball defender, but Stephenson has the tools to be very good in this area as well. He doesn't do it consistently enough, but that's a fixable flaw. Stephenson is also capable of creating his own shot, which is a feature this Celtics roster doesn't have enough of. Boston's struggles in the fourth quarter this season stem in part from their inability to find a reliable go-to scorer down the stretch. Stephenson is nothing if not confident and would have no qualms with stepping up to take the big shot. Stephenson shot 50% from the field last year in the fourth quarter or overtime of close games (five point spread or less), so he's proven himself capable of coming up clutch in crunch time. The Celtics could use a guy with his fearless swagger.
Bradley is a solid player that still has some upside, but it's clear that Stephenson has the higher ceiling. Stephenson's questionable maturity is the main reason Bradley earned more guaranteed money in free agency last summer. Bradley's contract isn't a horrible burden, but he is a bit overpaid based on how he's currently producing and teams can find players that play solid defense and hit corner threes for half the price of what Boston is paying him. Stephenson is on a shorter contract that comes with a third season that is not guaranteed. If he does't work out then Boston could let him walk after the 2015-16 season at a time when they could be coming into some serious cap space.
Charlotte will likely generate interest if they are willing to part with Stephenson and he could potentially be acquired at a bargain discount due to his early season struggles. From a pure talent standpoint, Stephenson has the ability to be better than Bradley, but that doesn't necessarily make him a better fit.
Stephenson's potential is enticing, but do you want to see a guy that does this on the Celtics?