Doc Rivers has taken the first step in rebooting the Clippers’ roster last night, acquiring Lance Stephenson from the Charlotte Hornets in a trade.
In exchange, the Clippers have rid themselves of backup center Spencer Hawes and his contract and also parted ways with starting small forward Matt Barnes.
The Clippers have been desperate for an upgrade on the wings for a couple of seasons and hope Stephenson, a versatile and lengthy defender with a chequered past, can be that guy.
— Lance Stephenson (@StephensonLance) June 16, 2015
A similar trade was on the table back in February at the trade deadline but the Clippers backed out.
Is a change of scenery all these players require? Both Los Angeles and Charlotte will certainly hope so. The Spencer Hawes stretch five experiment failed miserably in L.A. Hawes, who was coming off of a career year, averaged just 5.8 points per game and never found his three-point stroke, while his rim protection (or lack thereof) made him virtually unplayable. As for Stephenson? Well, he turned into a pumpkin last season in Charlotte, averaging just 8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
The move signals more changes are on the way – contrary to Doc Rivers comments after the team capitulated in seven games against the Houston Rockets.
“We were a quarter away from the Western [Conference] finals,” Rivers told the LA Times last month. “So I don’t think we need to blow this thing up.”
However, trading away the Clippers only insurance policy at center reaffirms Rivers’ intention to resign DeAndre Jordan to a max deal when free agency begins.
Interesting subplot of proposed deal – Hawes is LAC’s only DeAndre insurance. If DJ were to walk, Hawes has shown he can start at C in NBA — Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) June 15, 2015
The Clippers’ salary cap situation has been well documented and without money to throw around in free agency Rivers has been forced (mainly due to his own doing) to get creative in reshaping the roster — trading for a guy like Stephenson is a low-risk high-reward deal. Stephenson is a year removed from being one of the league’s most sought after free agents but a bad fit in Charlotte has meant that his name and reputation is on the nose.
Stephenson might not return to the auspicious form that made him a household name in Indiana back in 2013-14, where he was second in Most Improved player voting and led the league in triple-doubles, but the Clippers will be banking on him being a better version of himself than the one that appeared in Charlotte. Stephenson went from starter, to the bench, to out of the rotation quicker than you can say “Born Ready”. So, was last season an anomaly or was it just regression to the mean? Likely, it’s a combination of both.
Stephenson’s game is polarizing. At his best, he’s a tenacious defender and makes up for his stature (6’5) when guarding small forwards with his supreme athleticism and his humungous wingspan. He’s a strong rebounder and a capable creator.
On the other hand, Stephenson is a known ball dominator. He can’t shoot much (37.6% from the field and 17.1% from deep last season) and his eclectic personality makes him somewhat of an unknown entity. From blowing in LeBron James’ ear to slapping himself in the face, Stephenson’s seen by many as a huge red flag. The alleged tensions in the Clippers locker room will most definitely be put to the test by adding Stephenson’s personality to the mix.
However, the Hornets’ front office has repeatedly said that he handled his struggles professionally and was never a locker room distraction. The Hornets say Stephenson was simply a bad fit — so much so that they were willing to ship him out for Spencer Hawes and the remaining three years on his contract.
Lance Stephenson isn’t a bad guy. At times I found him gracious and articulate. But this was a horrible fit, and somewhat predictable.
— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) June 16, 2015
Stephenson only has one of the two remaining years on his contract guaranteed. So, if this deal doesn’t work out for the Clippers, they can cut their losses and be thankful they stripped themselves of paying Spencer Hawes along the way. However, at just 24 years of age, the dynamic yet untamed Stephenson is the kind of player that could help the Clippers break through the ceiling and into the Western Conference Finals. Clearly, GM Doc Rivers believes coach Doc Rivers can turn him back into more of the Stephenson seen in Indiana.
Ridding themselves of Hawes came at the cost of losing veteran forward Matt Barnes, who, at 35 years of age, had been a stalwart of the Clippers roster for the past couple of seasons. It cannot be understated how much losing Barnes will affect this team’s chemistry. On the court, Barnes was gallant as a Clipper taking on the toughest defensive assignment most nights against guys almost invariably taller, faster and more talented than he was. But the Clippers have craved an upgrade for years. Barnes did his best “3 and D” impression but his streaky shot often made him a liability on offense — so much so that opposing teams would dare him to shoot — particularly in the playoffs.
Despite speculation that Charlotte will waive Barnes before July 1 and save themselves around $2.5 million in cap space, there is no chance he returns to Los Angeles — at least in 2015-16, due to the CBA.
Nope. 1 year. RT @FANspire If Charlotte waives Matt Barnes after acquiring him form Clippers, could Clips re-sign him immediately?
— Larry Coon (@LarryCoon) June 16, 2015
Rivers has now virtually undone all of his 2013-14 offseason acquisitions. Chris Douglas-Roberts was shipped out in the Austin Rivers trade, Jordan Farmar was waived and now Spencer Hawes is gone. Ekpe Udoh is a free agent.
Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl around the possibility of Paul Pierce making one last stop on his career in L.A. However, any such move would require Pierce to opt out of another season in Washington and accept a lesser deal to play for Doc Rivers and the Clippers.
It’s unlikely that this deal will be the last for the Clippers. Jamal Crawford may be the next to go. His deal is non-guaranteed until July 1.