The Flip Side: There are point guards, there are shooting guards, and then there's Lance Stephenson

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Thumbnail image for lstephenson.jpgWednesday’s four-way trade saw just about every team involved walk away a winner. However, the effects of that trade are far more specific than just saying “This team got better,” or “This team accomplished its goals.” In The Flip Side, we’ll look at one player from each of the four teams — the Nets, the Pacers, the Hornets, and the Rockets — and how their career is impacted by the move in both the immediate and distant future.

In a trade that saw a number of moving parts rotate among the four participating teams, the Pacers came out with the most obvious prize. They surrendered rumor mill mainstay Troy Murphy, a useful shooter and rebounder on a sizable expiring deal, and in return received Darren Collison, one of the many standout point guards from last year’s rookie class. Collison did a superb job filling in for Chris Paul last season, and now he’ll have a team to truly call his own, even if it’s a slightly dysfunctional one.

Danny Granger will be thankful. Roy Hibbert’s life just got a whole lot easier, too. In fact, every single Pacer who hopes to score, score, or score this season will benefit from Collison’s presence.

Collison also isn’t T.J. Ford, which is a good thing. He’s going to run the offense, find his teammates, and get better every night, and Indiana will never have to worry about him sulking through another mid-January outing.

Yet it’s somewhat disappointing that we won’t have a proper opportunity to see if Born Ready really was born ready. One of the more interesting subplots coming out of this year’s draft was Jim O’Brien’s decision to transform Lance Stephenson, who up until this point has always been considered a traditional 2, into a point guard. Stephenson probably needed a fresh start after a sub-par year at Cincinnati, but the idea make a floor general out of him is, well, both remarkably odd and absolutely fascinating.

Based on his summer league performance (which is, empirically speaking, a dangerous way to begin a sentence), Stephenson looked very much like a scoring guard who happens to handle the ball. That’s fine. He’s a second rounder finding his way into the league, and is doing so at a new position, no less. It makes sense for Stephenson to do what got him here, even while slotted as a de facto playmaker.

Playing Stephenson at the point was an idea born out of necessity, but that necessity has since been removed. O’Brien seemed hopeful that Stephenson could develop into Indy’s point guard of the future, but the Pacers just nabbed a promising PG via trade. Collison is going to comfortably slide into the role that Stephenson was hoping to one day fill, which could mean the end of the Stephenson point guard experiment all together. If A.J. Price and T.J. Ford are filling in the minutes behind Collison, where does that leave Stephenson?

It’s not easy to say. Collison’s arrival is an undoubtedly good thing for Stephenson’s career overall though, even if it means we have to wait a bit longer to see him thrown into the fire. It’s entirely possible that if Lance were delegated responsibilities that exceeded his fledgling point guard skills, his chances of staying at the position over the long-term would be quashed. Maybe O’Brien would try to shift Stephenson back to the 2 after some early troubles. Maybe Lance’s confidence in his ability to adjust would be shaken. Or maybe Stephenson would simply succumb to one of the many fearsome perils that plague rookie second rounders.

Instead, Stephenson has an incredible luxury: time. Time to learn, time to develop, time to adjust. Hell, time for Lance to prove that he belongs in the NBA at all. He may be a point guard yet if O’Brien wills it so, and while Collison’s arrival in Indiana makes Stephenson’s positional status just a bit more ambiguous, it’s the kind of development that really could do wonders for Stephenson over the long haul. Some rookies burn up the pine, oozing with potential, waiting for a chance to play. Others, like Stephenson, have a lot to gain by operating in the background, even if doing so ruins an interesting case study in positional fluidity.

Spurs fall to Bulls 95-91 after winning first 13 road games

Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) is defended by San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/David Banks)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Dwyane Wade scored 20 points, and the Chicago Bulls handed San Antonio its first road loss after a 13-0 start, hanging on to beat the Spurs 95-91 on Thursday night.

San Antonio fell one win shy of matching the NBA’s best road start set by the Golden State Warriors last season. The Spurs cut an 18-point deficit midway through the third quarter to four in the closing minutes, only to come up short.

Kawhi Leonard scored 24 for San Antonio. Patty Mills added 16 points, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers. Former Bull Pau Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds in his first game in Chicago since signing with San Antonio in the summer, but the Spurs lost a road game for the first time since Oklahoma City knocked them out in the Western Conference semifinals last season.

Jimmy Butler scored all of his 13 points for Chicago in the second half. Rajon Rondo added 12 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds, and Chicago picked up the win after dropping three in a row and six of nine.

The Spurs hadn’t dropped a regular-season road game since Denver beat them on April 8. But after a big push down the stretch, they came up short in this one.

The Bulls led 65-47 midway through the third following a surge by Butler, who scored seven in a 54-second span after missing his first six shots. But the Spurs jumped back into it in the closing minutes of the quarter.

They went on an 11-2 run that Mills finished with a 3 to cut it to 72-66 just under a minute into the fourth.

Things got real tight when Gasol nailed a 3 to pull San Antonio to within 88-84 with 3:24 left. Doug McDermott then hit three free throws after being fouled by Tony Parker, and the teams basically exchanged baskets the rest of the way.

TIP-INS

Spurs: Parker had eight points and five assists after missing a game because of a bruised left knee. … For the second straight game, the Spurs set a season low for first-quarter scoring. They had 17 points after managing 19 at Minnesota on Tuesday night.

Bulls: F Doug McDermott scored eight points after being sidelined because of a concussion since Nov. 11. … Butler had scored 20 or more in 15 consecutive games, the longest streak by a Bulls player since Michael Jordan did it in 24 straight during the 1995-96 season.

 

Parker returns to Spurs’ lineup against Bulls

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CHICAGO (AP) San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker returned to the lineup Thursday night against the Chicago Bulls after missing a game because of a bruised left knee.

The seven-time All-Star did not play at Minnesota on Tuesday night after knocking knees with a Milwaukee Bucks defender the previous night. He started against the Bucks after missing two games with a thigh contusion.

Parker came into Thursday averaging 9.4 points and 4.4 assists.

Chicago’s Doug McDermott returned to the rotation after missing nearly a month because of a concussion.

Gasol, Douglas lead Grizzlies past Trail Blazers, 88-86

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Marc Gasol scored 36 points and Toney Douglas made two free throws with less than a second left to give the Memphis Grizzlies an 88-86 comeback victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Douglas finished with 11 points, scoring the game’s final six points to seal Memphis’ fifth straight victory.

Gasol was 13 of 24 from the field, including 4 of 6 from outside the arc. But Douglas, signed by Memphis this week because of injuries, took over down the stretch. The guard scored on a 19-footer with 34 seconds left, then converted two pairs of free throws in the last 20 seconds.

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 24 points, and Damian Lillard had 19 on 6-of-18 shooting. Evan Turner had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Portland held a 79-68 lead after Al-Farouq Aminu scored inside with 5:28 left. But Memphis clicked off a 14-2 rally and it settled into a one-possession contest.

Tony Allen had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Memphis.

Shooting issues that plagued both teams in the first half, spread past intermission as each started 4 of 14 from the field. That helped Portland maintain its lead after carrying a 50-43 advantage into halftime.

Despite converting only 5 of 20 shots in the third, Portland actually extended its lead, entering the fourth with a 69-61 advantage.

The Portland lead would reach 13 again in the fourth and was still at 11 when Memphis started its rally behind Gasol, who had nine straight points for the Grizzlies.

Portland had a previous 13-point lead in the second quarter as every Grizzly but Gasol was suffering shooting woes.

Gasol managed 19 points in the half, while Portland got 15 points each from McCollum and Lillard.

TIP-INS

Blazers: F Evan Turner started his first game of the season due to an injury to Maurice Harkless. …McCollum entered the game averaging 24 points. … G Allen Crabbe finished with seven points after scoring at least 14 in four straight games. …C Mason Plumlee had four points, ending his streak of seven straight games in double figures.

Grizzlies: Memphis coach David Fizdale finally said enough about calls and no-calls late in the first half to earn a technical courtesy of official J. T. Orr. Lillard missed the free throw to open the third. …Gasol also got a tech in the third quarter for arguing a call. … F JaMychal Green had a career-high 18 rebounds. His previous best was 17 this week in a win at New Orleans.

EXTENSIONS

Earlier Thursday, the Grizzlies announced that they have agreed to multi-year extensions with general manager Chris Wallace, John Hollinger, executive vice president of basketball operations, and Ed Stefanski, vice president of player personnel. Terms were not disclosed.

HARKLESS HURT

Portland forward Maurice Harkless did not play because of a left ankle sprain suffered in the latter stages of the Portland’s 115-107 loss at Milwaukee on Wednesday night. “I remember him wincing. He was on the free throw line,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “It was late in the game, like the last 2 minutes.”

NOTHING FREE

Both teams struggled from the free throw line. Portland made 29 of 40 in the game while Memphis was 20 of 30.

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Portland hits the middle game of a five-game trip, landing in Indiana on Saturday to face the Pacers.

Grizzlies: Memphis continues its homestand Saturday against the Gold State Warriors.

Stephen Curry gets fouled, hits crazy rainbow circus shot vs. Jazz (VIDEO)

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Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry is a wizard when it comes to shots you don’t think can ever reach the iron. Each time he does something like this, he surprises you even though you should be used to it by now.

But I’m not. The Utah Jazz aren’t. Heck, maybe even Steph isn’t used to it by now.

As Curry was driving down the left side of the floor on Thursday, Shelvin Mack got out of position and wound up trailing the Warriors star. With Curry rounding the pick, Mack reached and earned a foul.

Thinking quickly, Curry then hoisted up a rainbow of a shot that gently kissed the net on the way down.

Curry would go on to make the free throw for the 3-point play.