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.
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.