LAS VEGAS — The Charlotte Hornets are open to the prospect of signing Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson, the Observer learned Tuesday evening.
Having lost restricted free agent Gordon Hayward when the Utah Jazz matched an offer sheet, plus Josh McRoberts to the Miami Heat, Hornets management had contact with Stephenson’s representatives Tuesday, multiple NBA sources confirmed. Stephenson is one of the last big-name free agents yet to sign, and the Hornets could use his scoring and shooting ability on the wing.
However, Stephenson had some behavioral issues last season, when he was on the verge of unrestricted free agency, that seemingly have depressed his leverage. The Pacers have offered Stephenson $44 million over five seasons, and they reportedly have not come off that number. Stephenson thinks he’s worth considerably more.
Tuesday, following the summer Board of Governors meeting, Pacers owner Herb Simon reiterated to the Indianapolis Star that his franchise believes its offer to Stephenson is more than fair.
“We made him a wonderful offer and they didn’t think it was enough, so it’s a simple situation,” Simon told the Star.
The Hornets have plenty of cap room to make Stephenson an offer. Their first choice was Hayward, who they were willing to pay $63 million over four years. The Hornets stayed clear of Stephenson until now, as alternatives dried up.
A 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Stephenson had a breakthrough season statistically, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He also shot 49 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.
The Hornets were in the bottom third of the 30-team NBA last season in scoring, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and 3-point percentage. The wing combination of small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and shooting guard Gerald Henderson hasn’t demonstrated the shooting range to punish teams for double-teaming center Al Jefferson in the post.
But the question becomes how Stephenson’s quirkiness might play out once he signs a lucrative contract. He famously blew in opponent LeBron James’ ear during the playoffs. He was fined for flopping last season and was charged with 14 technical fouls, fourth-most in the NBA.
It is not the Hornets’ habit to take frequent risks on high-maintenance players. Trading for Stephen Jackson worked out for two seasons before the franchise traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Now the Hornets have drafted P.J. Hairston, a player who lost his NCAA eligibility over improper benefits and who recently was cited for punching a teenager during a pickup game at a Durham YMCA.
Team owner Michael Jordan said one of his team’s greatest strengths last season was the character of the players on the roster. Would that embolden the front office to take a chance on Stephenson or make the Hornets all the more wary of threatening that stability?
Finances also could be a factor ultimately in whether the Hornets end up with Stephenson: How much would he want and for how many years? A shorter contract would reduce the risk of committing to him.
Also, there’s the competitive pressure in the Eastern Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers improved dramatically with the addition of James, so that’s a non-playoff team in the East that now looks like a postseason lock. While the Heat lost James, it weakened the Hornets with the signing of McRoberts.
It’s possible the Hornets will struggle just to hold ground for the seventh seed they earned last season without additional improvement to the roster.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell