Rumor: Clippers to trade for Lance Stephenson?


Here’s a fun rumor re-run, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports: the Clippers and Hornets have discussed a trade package that would involve oh-so interesting shooting guard Lance Stephenson.

"In a high-risk, high-reward move, the Los Angeles Clippers are discussing a deal with the Charlotte Hornets to acquire guard Lance Stephenson, league sources told Yahoo Sports.The Clippers would send forwards Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes to the Hornets, sources said. Talks have been ongoing for several days, but the proposed deal is yet to be considered imminent."

While the Clippers ‘internally discussed’ a Lance Stephenson trade mid-way through this past season (and according to many reports, the Hornets wanted J.J. Redick in return), Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports the deal cited by Woj was discussed by the two teams at the February deadline.

It’s an interesting trade that’d allow the Clippers cap flexibility a year early (by ditching Spencer Hawes’ deal) as Stephenson’s third year in his contract contains a team option for $9 million. Depending on how Stephenson plays, that $9 million could be used elsewhere to improve a Clippers team who’s right around the corner from championship contention or Stephenson plays at a level where his $9 million deal becomes a bargain deal.

Speaking in present tense, acquiring Stephenson is a risk, especially after his career-worse season with the Hornets, just one year after a career best in his last season with the Indiana Pacers. In every facet of the game Stephenson regressed toward rookie and sophomore-level numbers. The combo guard shot 37% from the field, the second worst mark of his career, 17% from beyond the arch, and dealt with nagging injuries throughout the year. The biggest plus among box-score statistics includes his 25.4 assist percentage, averaging 5.5 assists per-36 minutes.

Among several things, Stephenson’s shooting percentages progressing toward the 46 and 49% he shot in years 3 and 4 in the NBA are the biggest factor in him returning to form, as well as Lance’s role in the offense. In the off-season, many believed a Stephenson-Kemba Walker backcourt could a duo that’d help keep the Hornets in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Instead the relationship backfired, with Stephenson and Walker playing visibly worse when on the court with one another — per NBA Stats, Stephenson posted a net rating of -9.9 with Walker in 748 minutes; in 825 minutes without Walker, Stephenson’s net rating dipped to -5.4 (fwiw, Walker isn’t the sole reason played poorly: without Walker, Stephenson posted an offensive rating of 92.7, a poor mark).

Per Woj, Stephenson would be the on-ball handler and playmaker in minutes where Chris Paul is on the bench for rest, a role that has been handled by the likes of Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and Darren Collison over the last two seasons.

"The Clippers are considering the idea of using Stephenson as the primary ballhandler when All-Star Chris Paul is out of the game, league sources said. Stephenson struggled with the way Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker dominated the ball on offense, and would assuredly find a similar situation with Paul in Los Angeles."

Thinking about how Stephenson’s presence could impact the Clippers’ off-season, draft and free agency, immediate fallout would likely include Los Angeles parting ways with Jamal Crawford. Crawford, coming off another postseason where he shot below 40% from the field and was visibly a negative on the defensive end, has a non-guaranteed this summer, which would allow the Clippers to save close to $5 million in cap space — if DeAndre Jordan re-signs at the max, that $5 million grows in importance, for mid-level exception and luxury tax reasoning.

And the obvious, with Barnes and Hawes out the door in the transaction, the Clippers would have to find immediate replacements for the two in the rotation. In regards to the small forward position, the Clippers have been connected with Paul Pierce for the second summer in a row as many believe he’d opt out of the final year of his deal with the Washington Wizards to play for former coach Doc Rivers. For replacing Hawes, a number of candidates could feasibly step in and improve the backup center situation as Hawes fell out of favor less than six months into the four-year deal the former 76ers center signed with the Clippers in the off-season — this spot could covered in the upcoming NBA Draft as the Clippers are rumored to be focusing on a big man.

It’s an interesting scenario on the table so it’ll be interesting to see if the Clippers pull it off, especially knowing the odds of the deal backfiring are much higher than them playing out as expected.