Not since Ron Artest has there been a player as quirky as Lance Stephenson. Between being one of the leaders in technical fouls, flopping fines, and his most infamous blowing in the ear stunt against LeBron James in the playoffs, he is unpredictable, to say the least. Despite all the side effects of having Stephenson on their team, Larry Bird attempted to bring the shooting guard back to Indiana. However, instead of coming back to prove that Indiana’s meltdown was a fluke, Stephenson is headed to the Charlotte Hornets, which will give him a fresh new start.
Early on in the offseason, Indiana offered their quirky guard five years at $44 million. Stephenson balked at the offer, stating that his now former team low-balled him. However, after waiting weeks for a reasonable offer from teams, he elected to sign a modest three-year contract rumored to be worth $27 million in all, with a team option for the final year in Charlotte. This, surprisingly, only averages to $9 million per season, opposed to Indiana’s average of $8.8 million per season. With barely any difference in salary between both offers, Stephenson most likely chose Charlotte due to his ability to go to a team for increased value in three years, where he will only be 27 years of age. Most importantly, in these upcoming three years, Stephenson can mature. It was his immaturity which likely gave many teams across the league cold feet in terms of offering him a better deal.
Despite the immaturity that Lance Stephenson has showcased through the first four years of his professional career, he has been one of the most promising all-around players in the game. First and foremost, the guard has been one of the most efficient shooters in the game, having improved to 49 percent shooting this past season, while having a solid 35 percent from the three-point line. Unlike the majority of the players on Indiana this past season, Stephenson has shown to be more than capable at creating his own shot. He is unselfish as exemplified with his ability to get his teammates involved with his average of 4.6 apg this past season.
Additionally, despite being 6’5″, he is one of the better help rebounders currently playing the game at 7.2 rpg. What truly makes Stephenson a steal for Charlotte is that, much like Joakim Noah in Chicago, Stephenson is one of the best hustle players in the league. He will fight tooth and nail for the ball. The shooting guard also helped Indiana become one of the top defensive teams over the last few years with his dedication to his man on the other end of the court. He plays excellent man-to-man defense that oftentimes can be too much for other teams to bare.
Regardless of the basketball skills Stephenson showcases, the only person that will slow his future down is himself. As great of a defender as he is, his tactics became highly questionable in the playoffs where he blew in LeBron James’ ear while also covering the former MVP’s mouth with his hand. Earlier in the season, he proved that he not only has questionable methods against opponents, but that he is not the easiest teammate to get along with as well. He came to blows with Evan Turner during practice and had to be separated from George Hill during a game. These are beyond questionable moves, and they can arguably be the thing that destroys Stephenson’s career.
Luckily for Lance Stephenson, he has time on his side. Coming into next season, the guard will only be 24 years old. As such, between cutting back on his antics from this past season or allowing Charlotte to mold him into a mature basketball player, there still is possibility for the young man. After all, Stephenson has a brand new start. By signing with the Charlotte Hornets, he will become an integral player on the squad alongside Al Jefferson (21.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.1 rpg) and Kemba Walker (17.7 ppg, 6.1 apg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 spg). This is a team that surprised the league by not only making the playoffs, but doubling their 2012-2013 win total. As such, one of the most controversial players in the league has an easy chance for a new start that could position himself as a future All-Star on a team that could make a potential playoff run.
Stephenson served as a black eye to the Indiana Pacers last season by garnering headlines that were more about his antics than his play. There is no question that Lance Stephenson is a great player, and with the decision to sign with the Charlotte Hornets, it gives him a fresh new start that could catapult him to stardom.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey