For the most part, you can safely predict the production of the Clippers’ key contributors next year. Blake Griffin may start shooting threes on a regular basis, or maybe DeAndre Jordan will get a smattering of those dangled post touches, but for the most part? This is a veteran team. We know who they are.
When the Clippers traded Spencer Hawes, his contract, and his best Christmas suit to Charlotte, they picked up a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma in Lance Stephenson.
Anyone that says they can reasonably predict Stephenson’s production next year is not to be trusted. There is no floor or ceiling or gravity when it comes to Lance. He could end up being one of the most valuable contributors on an elite team, or he could be quarantined at some point this year. He is a wild card in every sense of the word.
But with that being said, there are a few different ways to evaluate the trade that brought Stephenson on board.
The first way to look at it is from the “treat players solely like assets and not human beings” angle, which isn’t actually a thing but whatever. With those glasses on? Hell of a trade! The Clippers got more financially flexible down the line and dealt a non-contributor in their playoff rotation for a 25-year-old who averaged 13-7-4 in the playoffs just two years ago. If it doesn’t work out, you take the savings by declining the team option next year and move on when the cap jumps. Low risk, high reward. Those are the gambles to make.
The second way is to try and account for all the things you can’t really measure. This is the way of life for “culture fetishists” or whomever wants to justify the signing of a veteran who is already toast. Chuck Hayes is exempt from this rule because Chuck Hayes is an American icon. Anyway, these types would be worried about not being able to quantify:
– How much Chris Paul will want to strangle Lance Stephenson.
– How many stinkfaces per minute Lance Stephenson will make when he doesn’t have the ball.
– How much Blake Griffin hates getting his ears played with.
And those are probably legitimate concerns, but again, the Clippers can just cut bait if maximum uncomfort levels are reached, even if it’s not something you ideally want to deal with during a championship run.
But these things tend to work themselves out when you have vocal leadership and clear-cut stars, which the Clippers obviously do. Dion Waiters never really got on board the LeBron train and thought he was always open in Cleveland, and so they decided he could go be permanently open elsewhere.
If you think Chris Paul is going to quietly suffer or back down from confrontation and not be every bit as assertive as a LeBron type, you’ve been fooled by the sheep’s clothing, friend.
And there’s reason to believe that the lack of a clear-cut pecking order was a big part of Lance’s complete flameout in Charlotte last season. Kemba Walker sure looks miserable to play with, right? He shoots 16 times a game on terrible percentages and tries to do literally everything off his own dribble. His idea of a successful pick-and-roll is getting a switch so he can take a contested jumper over a much bigger player. He doesn’t create for others. If he played for a bigger market than Charlotte, we’d be talking about how much that guy stinks on a much regular basis.
And Al Jefferson, relic that he is, is sort of set in his ways. He has his block and he wants the ball, and that’s the way it always shall be.
So you can see Lance coming into Charlotte, high off his new contract and Michael Jordan giving him free shoes or whatever, thinking he was the Hornets best player and causing trouble. But it wasn’t completely unjustified, because he really could have been the Hornets best player! But coming in and trying to wrestle the ball away from Kemba and Big Al on a a team that waged a vendetta against the concept of floor spacing? He was destined to fail in spectacular fashion, even if he shot 17 percent from three all by himself.
This probably doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for the Lance Stephenson Experience, and the “wild card” label comes with all sorts of negative connotations, but the point is that the Clippers couldn’t create a worse situation for Stephenson than the Hornets did, even if Donald T. Sterling himself were in charge of the welcoming committee. Charlotte was a nightmare fit, and now Stephenson gets a second chance at establishing his value by being on reasonably good behavior and balling out in what essentially could equate to a contract year. There’s plenty reason for him to be motivated, beyond the whole “I was traded for Spencer Hawes” thing.
And praise be to Doc for orchestrating the whole thing, because this was the correct process and approach to take after last offseason’s blunders. If the mission was to find a player who could potentially push the team over the hump while not forfeiting any meaningful assets, including draft picks or future cap space, while also giving up very little in return (Matt Barnes was the unfortunate casualty, which we’ll get to on another day)…well, bravo, because that’s exactly what happened. Doc has made mistakes. This isn’t one of them.
This was, instead, Bargain Shopping 101. If you put Lance in a defined 6th man role with a bunch of guys that will let him have the ball and create for them, similar to what the Clippers have allowed Jamal Crawford to do for the last few years, you’ve at the very least fulfilled your end of the bargain. The rest is on Lance. Just maybe don’t let him drive the team bus.