The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors aren't the only NBA teams making news this week. The Los Angeles Clippers acquired swingman Lance Stephenson from the Charlotte Hornets. What might that mean for their NBA Odds next season?
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First off, I'm a tad surprised that the NBA even allowed this trade to go through while the Finals are going on. Generally these leagues frown on other teams making news during a championship series. The Denver Nuggets just broke that unwritten rule as well, hiring Mike Malone as the team's head coach.
The Clippers got Stephenson for veteran small forward Matt Barnes, a starter last season, and backup center/power forward Spencer Hawes. Interestingly, this exact deal was reportedly close to happening before the February trade deadline but couldn't be consummated. Barnes averaged 29.9 minutes per night for the Clippers in 2014-15 and 10.1 points and 4.0 rebounds. Hawes didn't do much, averaging 17.5 minutes per game, 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds.
Let me just say upfront that I like this deal for the Clippers and it definitely has the potential to be a huge steal for them. That's if the focused Stephenson from the Indiana Pacers shows up and not the guy who was mostly terrible and not a good teammate last season with the Charlotte Hornets.
The Hornets signed Stephenson to a three-year, $27 million free-agent deal last offseason. Most everyone loved that deal because it was great value -- or so it appeared. Stephenson was probably the second-best player on the 2013-14 Pacers (behind Paul George) team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals. He averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists. He shot a very good 49.1 percent and a not terrible 35.2 percent from long range. Stephenson led the NBA in triple-doubles that season and was a fine perimeter defender.
The Pacers did want him back, even though you heard reports of locker-room turmoil involving Stephenson, and offered him more money than Charlotte did. For whatever reason, Stephenson just never fit in with the Hornets. He played in only 61 games and started 25. He averaged 25.8 minutes per night and scored only 8.2 points per game, shooting just 37.6 percent from the field and a ghastly 17.1 percent from long range (worst ever for a player with at least 100 attempts). His rebounds and assists also dropped. Stephenson had a net efficiency rating of minus-7.5 last season compared to plus-6.1 in his final Indiana season, when he was the runner-up for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award.
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Some Risk, But Potential High Reward For Clippers
This story is more about the Clippers, but I'll touch on why the Hornets moved Stephenson first. He had clearly fallen out of favor with coach Steve Clifford, who sometimes wouldn't let Stephenson off the bench at all. So this might be addition by subtraction -- Barnes might not end up playing for the team as there has been talk of a buyout.
Doc Rivers is a fine coach but has been criticized as a GM since taking on that role as well in Los Angeles. He clearly feels a strong locker room with leaders like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can get the best out of Stephenson. And the Clippers have been looking for wing help forever. Stephenson isn't a great shooter but can get to the basket and guard those shooting guards and small forwards. The Clippers were so thin on the wing last season that other than starter J.J. Redick (not a good defender) and Sixth Man Jamal Crawford (ditto), they had to give significant playoff minutes to Doc's son, Austin Rivers. That's not a good thing.
Plus if the Clippers don't like Stephenson, the last year of his deal in 2016-17 is a team option so they can cut him loose for nothing. Barnes wasn't big enough to shut down the league's best small forwards or quick enough to deal with the best two-guards. Barnes was also 35 and Stephenson 25 (in September). At worst, the Clippers are younger and more athletic now.
The Clippers aren't done. They have to re-sign center DeAndre Jordan. And there are reports that Paul Pierce wants to play for his former coach Rivers next season. So if you re-sign Jordan, swap Pierce for Barnes and have Stephenson anchor a second unit with Crawford, then maybe you have something. Of course the Clippers now don't have a backup big man for Jordan, but I'm sure there are some out there.
NBA Free Pick: The Clippers are currently +1200 fourth-favorites to win the 2016 NBA title on sportsbook NBA odds and +500 third-favorites to win the West. Keep Jordan and add Pierce, and reaching the NBA Finals doesn't look impossible. The Warriors aren't going anywhere, but the Thunder have injury questions and the Spurs are old.