I wrote last week that the Charlotte Hornets should not take a chance on Lance.
Like my kids, the Hornets didn’t listen to me. Charlotte just signed Lance Stephenson to a three-year contract.
And you know what? Although I still don’t agree with the move, I would love to be wrong on this and the Hornets to be right.
Stephenson at his best will make the Hornets much more dangerous and more interesting. He will become the third scoring option last year’s team at crunch time never really had. The former Indiana Pacer will stretch the floor for Al Jefferson, help Kemba Walker in numerous ways and irritate opponents defensively.
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The best-case scenario is Stephenson becomes Charlotte’s version of Dennis Rodman for the Chicago Bulls in the late 1990s – a bizarre personality, but so effective on those Bulls title teams that they kept him around and let Dennis be Dennis in all of his green-haired splendor as long as he grabbed 15 rebounds a game. Michael Jordan ultimately kept Rodman in line. Perhaps his outsized influence can help do the same with Stephenson.
And the price the Hornets have paid for Stephenson – at least by NBA standards – strikes me as quite reasonable. Stephenson will cost about 40 percent less than Gordon Hayward would. And in terms of sheer talent, Stephenson has more. He should start right away over Gerald Henderson at shooting guard. The Hornets, who had had a poor first five days of free agency, have suddenly made something big happen.
But I haven’t changed my mind in only a week. This was a late-night gamble in Las Vegas – yes, the deal was literally struck while the Hornets were in Vegas for summer league. Anyone who has seen “The Hangover” movies knows how late nights in Vegas often pan out.
Maybe Jefferson and Walker can lead this team well enough that Stephenson will fall into line. Maybe the Hornets’ locker room is good enough it can get Stephenson not to blow into LeBron James’ ear or walk over into the Miami Heat’s huddle and start listening to the plays or get goaded into trying to take over games by himself. Maybe the player who led the league in triple-doubles but was fourth in the NBA in technical fouls can keep it up in that first category and calm it down in the second.
One thing is for sure: You don’t want Stephenson and P.J. Hairston out on the town alone anytime this season during a road trip.
But it will all be fun to watch, for sure. As a journalist – even though I don’t like the move in the long term because I think somewhere down the road Stephenson will make the Hornets pay for their faith in him – I sure am going to enjoy it from a writing perspective. Stephenson is a sports columnist’s dream – an electrifying extremist who generates an opinion from everyone who sees him play.
Even him coming to Charlotte is weird in its own way. Stephenson took less guaranteed money from a team that has never won a playoff game to leave Indiana, which was just in the NBA’s final four. He’s obviously betting on himself, thinking his next contract will be even bigger.
As for the Hornets, what happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. Charlotte obviously didn’t want to do this deal when free agency began – remember, Hayward was the first choice – but ended up doing it anyway as the few other “proven wing scorer” options went other places or didn’t interest Charlotte.
And remember, this sort of thing worked once before for awhile for the then-Bobcats – when Stephen Jackson helped lead the team to a playoff appearance in 2010. Jackson had a history even more checkered than Stephenson’s.
So here we go.
Crank up the rollercoaster.
That click-click-click sound you always hear as the coaster gets pulled to the top of the tallest hill? That’s what the Hornets and their fans are hearing. Hold on tight, because there’s no getting off now.