Report: Charlotte Hornets to sign Lance Stephenson to three-year contract

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UPDATE 11:11 am: Lance Stephenson’s representative Alberto Ebanks released this statement to the Indy Star about the decision, which makes it seem it was less about the money and more about the years.

“Lance is forever grateful for all the love he’s received from Pacers fans. He is especially grateful to his teammates, Frank Vogel, Herb Simon. the Pacers management and, most of all, Larry Bird. While we tried our best to come to the best possible terms for both sides there was not sufficient flexibility in the terms of the contract, particularly the length of the contract. Reports throughout the negotiation process with Indiana have often strayed from the truth but suffice it to say that it was less about the money. Lance will miss the city, the team and the mentor who helped transform him into the dynamic player he has become. He looks forward to making a strong contribution and beginning a new chapter with the Charlotte Hornets.”

His teammates were not thrilled to hear the news they lost one of their team’s best players.

6:14 am: Michael Jordan’s team had built up a nice foundation in the East last season, but they needed to become more dynamic on offense to take the next step.

They just did that.

Or at least took a gamble on it — and if you’re in Charlotte you need to take a few gambles to bring in stars.

The Charlotte Hornets have landed the best free agent still on the market in Lance Stephenson, reaching a three-year deal with the unrestricted free agent from Indiana. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer broke the story basically in the middle of the night (early Wednesday morning, to be specific).

Other reports say this works out to three years, $27 million total (if the team picks up that third year). That is more per year than the five-year, $44 million offer Larry Bird and the Indiana Pacers threw at Stephenson. For Stephenson this new deal lacks the security or guaranteed money of the Indiana offer, but he had felt insulted by what he thought was a low-ball offer from the Pacers and was looking for someone else to step up. He found it. Sort of.

For Charlotte, they limit their exposure to the talented but immature Stephenson by keeping this a two-year deal if they don’t pick up the option.

This is a great fit on the court for the Hornets, who count on Kemba Walker at the point to create offense and Al Jefferson in the paint to put up numbers. Stephenson both brings another shot creator and a good defender to a team that made the playoffs last season based on its defense.

Stephenson averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game last season and when on can both can create shots for himself and others with his attacking, aggressive style. He doesn’t tend to do it efficiently all the time and that aggressive style can turn wild and reckless. Then there’s also the guy that blows in LeBron James’ ear.

If he matures on the court, this could be the steal of free agency. If not, the Hornets can get out of this deal early.

The Pacers, already over the salary cap, are going to have a hard time replacing Stephenson’s shot creation. That was an at times stagnant offense that just got much more so. Larry Bird has some real work to do now.

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.