Clippers’ Lance Stephenson can be the next Josh Smith


Since news broke that the Los Angeles Clippers would be bringing in Lance Stephenson for next season, it seems like every basketball fan around has had an opinion on the move. For the most part, those words have been negative, with many feeling that Stephenson will be detrimental to the growth of this team from contender, to favourite team to come out of the West next year. While Stephenson’s career certainly got lost in Charlotte with the Hornets however, this is absolutely a risk worth taking for the franchise for a number of reasons.

More from Clipperholics

Let’s start with the facts, and that is that Lance Stephenson only has one year remaining on his current deal. This means that if this all goes badly, they can cut ties with the guy after one season. The potential may be there to package his expiring deal before the trade deadline if an opportunity to improve the roster also comes up. So this doesn’t have to be a long term thing anyway.

Is that alone not worth taking a flyer on? If this season’s playoffs showed us anything, it’s that the Clippers rely on their stars too much to get the job done for them. It’s great that they can count on Chris Paul and Blake Griffin as their team’s superstars, arguably two of the top ten guys in the league. But role players need to step up at crunch time as well, and while Jamal Crawford has been that guy for them during the regular season for a few years now, he tends to vanish in the playoffs.

Mar 8, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) shoots over Detroit Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) in the fourth quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Charlotte won 108-101. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

So having another quality guy in the rotation (he led the league in triple-doubles two years ago before leaving the Indiana Pacers for Charlotte) is always a plus. Another key element to this, potentially the most important part of all, is that Stephenson won’t be used in the same way he was with the Hornets. He was brought in to be their offensive star, a guy who could put up 20 points a night and command a double team.

This was to free up the likes of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker to operate in a freedom they had never enjoyed before, building on what had been a playoff team in 2014. Of course we know now things did not work out like this, but I still commend the Hornets on giving it a go. In Los Angeles however, we’d be much more likely to see the Pacers’ version of Stephenson nightly.

Back in those days, he was a great additional option behind emerging star Paul George and inside presence Roy Hibbert. That team also had pick-and-pop forward David West, and even George Hill was adding something on the offensive end. So it didn’t begin and end with Stephenson, so with defenses not planning for him before all others, he was able to contribute in a variety of ways.

Now, the Clippers already have their core in Paul, Griffin and hopefully a returning DeAndre Jordan, so they don’t need Stephenson to come in and be a focal point right away. He’s a versatile player who can start if needed, but who will likely come off the bench and terrorize second units. When you look at it that way, it’s hard not to get excited about what he could bring to a team that sorely needs punch off the pine.

In fact, this Clippers’ outfit boasted the 22nd most efficient bench during the regular season last year, a number that surely must improve if they want to contend for a championship. Austin Rivers, for so long the butt of many an NBA joke, actually turned in some decent performances as well. But with Crawford struggling and Rivers a key contributor off the bench, surely Stephenson is an upgrade here? Again, the risk is relatively low, so it made sense to go after him, right?

Of course so many people wouldn’t be cautious if Stephenson had a stellar reputation, which isn’t exactly true. Much of the blame for Charlotte’s disappointing season last year was placed on his shoulders. While some of the criticism may have been a little harsh — as this team was at best going to once again make it to the first round of the playoffs and no further — Stephenson is perceived as a bad individual to have in a locker room.

Why this is important for the Clippers in particular is because they’ve had three real goes at the playoffs now with a contending roster, and have yet to make the Conference Finals. Injuries and bad luck play their part sure, but with the arrival of the Golden State Warriors and other teams making moves as well, they’re at risk of slipping further behind. This is a big season coming up for them and adding Lance Stephenson at this critical time could backfire.

Again though, if it doesn’t work out they can dump him after a year. Stephenson won’t want that to happen, as his options for a new team would be limited if his reputation became even more tarnished. The Clippers’ need valuable role players, and that is exactly what he can be.

Finally, we’ll leave this on an optimistic note. Last season, a former star with an apparent bad attitude and even worse reputation was let go by the team he was meant to help make relevant again. Once cut midway through the year, his old team put together an impressive run and now look primed to be a decent team next year if they can keep their core intact.

In the meantime, a contending team out West took a flyer on the washed up forward, with many seeing it as a gamble, even though there was little financial risk involved (his previous employers had amnestied him). He was going to mess up team chemistry they said, and take the ball away from the team’s stars because he was a high volume shooter by nature.

Instead, the player reinvented himself, becoming a key component to a Conference Finals run. That guy? The enigmatic Josh Smith, who surely realised his career was in a bad way and that the Houston Rockets were potentially his last hope to get it back on track. He duly obliged and turned in some great performances, and he’s seen in a new light now.

Lance Stephenson can do the same thing, you just need to give him a chance.

Next: Lance Stephenson wants to change his reputation