Lance Stephenson was Charlotte’s big free agent addition this past summer, and he was supposed to help to further solidify the Hornets as a legitimate playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
It hasn’t exactly worked out that way.
Stephenson has been underwhelming at best, possibly due to a groin injury that limited him during the preseason. And his ineffectiveness has been part of the reason for the team’s slower than expected start, which finds the Hornets sitting at just 8-19, tied with the Pacers for 11th in the standings.
There have already been trade discussions involving Stephenson, which is highly unusual considering the commitment the Hornets just made to sign him as an unrestricted free agent. As it turns out, the reason may have to do with more than just his less than stellar on-court production.
According to league sources, Stephenson has clashed with teammates, and coach Steve Clifford has placed the onus of Stephenson’s adjustment on the team’s veteran players, hoping they could police themselves and convince Stephenson to become more of a team player. Stephenson may become a more attractive piece near the Feb. 19 trade deadline, but the Hornets would want value in return.
This is big, if true, in terms of the Hornets being able to trade Stephenson so early in the relationship.
Charlotte hasn’t historically been an attractive market for big name free agents to choose to sign. Al Jefferson came for the money before last season, and to some extent, Stephenson did the same.
But he also had an offer to return to the Pacers, and there’s a courting process that goes on when multiple teams are trying to recruit a specific player. If the Hornets dealt Stephenson simply because he started slow in his new environment, that would dramatically hurt the team’s ability to convince future recruits that their commitment was sincere.
The locker room problems shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, because we heard rumblings of similar issues with Stephenson in Indiana — not to mention the childish on-court behavior we witnessed that was a detriment to his team’s chances. If Stephenson can improve on the court, a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff will go away. But given the way things have begun with him in Charlotte, the team will certainly listen if trade partners come calling with reasonable offers.