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.