The Hornets signed Lance Stephenson to a three-year, $27 million deal in free agency last summer, with the hope being he could become one of the team’s go-to players — if not initially, then certainly as the season progressed.
But things have been rocky for quite some time, and may have hit their low point Monday night.
With Charlotte fighting for the East’s final playoff spot and playing a critical game against the Boston Celtics — a team they were tied with in the loss column — Hornets coach Steve Clifford made the decision to keep Stephenson on the bench.
From the Associated Press:
“It’s not in my hands. It’s in Coach’s hands,” Stephenson said.
When asked if he was upset by the decision, Stephenson said, “I mean, of course. I feel like I could help our team. I feel I could have helped tonight.”
Said Clifford: “I explained to him that I’m not saying it’s his fault at all but we have struggled to find a group that has played well off the bench in these last few games.”
The Celtics won in Charlotte 116-104, which put the Hornets a game-and-a-half back of Boston in the standings.
Stephenson struggled in the early part of the season to find his way, and after returning from an injury-forced 14-game absence, he’s been relegated to a reserve role ever since.
The Hornets explored trading Stephenson midseason, but that’s not how you want to treat your newly-signed free agents, no matter how poor the match. If they’re not even going to play him in the season’s most critical contests, however, they’ll probably revisit dealing him once the season is finished.
TORONTO (AP) — Pascal Siakam had 37 points and 12 rebounds and the Toronto Raptors beat the Phoenix Suns 118-101 on Friday night for their 16th victory in 17 games.
Serge Ibaka scored 16 points, Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis each had 14, Kyle Lowry had 13 points and 10 assists and OG Anunoby aded 12 points for the defending NBA champion Raptors.
After Toronto’s franchise-record 15-game winning streak ended with a loss at Brooklyn in the final game before the All-Star break, the Raptors bounced back by starting the second half with their eighth consecutive home victory.
The Raptors have not lost back-to-back games since an overtime loss at Indiana on Dec. 23 and a home loss to Boston on Christmas Day. Toronto has gone 19-1 since.
Siakam connected on 12 of 19 attempts, going 5 of 9 from 3-point range.
That was just one fewer than the six 3-pointers the Suns managed on 34 attempts. Phoenix shot 17.6%t from long range, its lowest mark of the season. No Suns player made more than one shot from distance.
Devin Booker scored 21 points and Deandre Ayton had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix. The Suns lost for the seventh time in nine games.
Ayton returned to the starting lineup after missing the final two games before the All-Star break because of a sore left ankle.
Phoenix trailed 93-78 through three quarters, but the Suns cut the gap to six points, 96-90 on a basket by Ayton with 8:08 left to play. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a pair from the line, and VanVleet and Siakam both scored to put the Raptors up 102-90 with 6:58 remaining.
Booker missed a 3 with 4:45 left that would have made it a four-point game. Anunoby scored on a dunk and, after another missed 3 by the Suns, Ibaka banked home a 3-pointer to restore Toronto’s 12-point cushion.
Moe Harkless went from a guy often starting and playing critical minutes for a contender in the Clippers to being the matching salary in a trade and finding himself on the woeful Knicks.
“It is definitely an adjustment with the way things are,” Harkless told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “Everything is different, the culture and everything.”
If there was a player nobody would blame for wanting a buyout and the chance to get back to a team playing for something, it would be Harkless.
That’s not happening. Multiple reports have surfaced that he is not talking buyout with New York running up to the March 1 deadline. The latest comes from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
Then Harkless was even more direct speaking to Bondy.
“I’ll be here the rest of the year,” he said.
Harkless has fans in NBA front offices, with the Lakers rumored to be among them (although they are about to land Markieff Morris in a similar role). Harkless could play good defensive minutes on the wing down the stretch for a team, buying rest for key guys, plus in the playoffs he could be advantageous in certain matchups.
Morris and the Knicks have time to change their minds, but it sounds like he will play out the season in New York then be a free agent next summer.
If the Lakers are going to add Markieff Morris — as has been rumored — or anyone else via free agency, they are going to need to clear out a roster spot.
That has the Lakers looking to waive DeMarcus Cousins, a report broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.
Cousins signed with the Lakers over the summer but never set foot on the court with them after tearing his ACL during summer workouts (which led to a scramble and L.A.’s fortuitous signing of Dwight Howard). He was around the team and rehabbing, and while they would never officially rule him out, Cousins was never expected to play.
He was not waived before because his $3.5 million salary might have been useful in a trade. When that didn’t materialize at the deadline it, became likely he could get waived.
It’s highly unlikely a team picks up Cousins this season, while he continues to rehab from his injury. However, it might be a good roll of the dice this summer by a team to sign him to a minimum contract for next season. Cousins still has some NBA basketball in him, if he can just stay healthy.
Karl-Anthony Towns was a surprise scratch from the Timberwolves last game before the All-Star break, a “left wrist injury” delaying the home debut of him with D'Angelo Russell (they did play a road game together in Toronto). Then came the rumors he could miss a few games when play started up again.
It’s going to be more than a few games, more than a few weeks.
Towns has a fractured left wrist, the team announced Friday. He is out and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. From the team press release:
“While Towns has been diligent in treatment with a goal of return to play, he has been assessed by multiple specialists over the last several days and the team continues to gather information on the optimal management strategies.”
Towns had been playing through wrist pain for a couple of weeks before this diagnosis.
Towns is having a career year on offense, averaging 26.5 points a game while shooting 41 percent from three (on 7.9 attempts per game), plus grabbing 10.8 rebounds a night. That has not translated into wins for Minnesota, however.
Towns being out doesn’t hurt the Timberwolves in the short term, they have fallen far out of the playoff chase in the West. However, this cuts into time Towns and Russell could have used to grow accustomed to each other’s games. It’s time lost for the coaching staff and front office as they evaluate the fit of players they have around Towns and Russell.