Evaluating the Lance Stephenson Trade to the Los Angeles Clippers

The Hornets and Clippers snuck in a trade during the middle of the NBA Finals. Did either team significantly improve as a result?

Right smack during the NBA Finals, the Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers completed a trade that sent Lance Stephenson to Los Angeles and Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to Charlotte. However, it’s likely that the Hornets waive Barnes as it would save them $2.5 million if he’s waived before July 1st, according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

So on the floor, this trade essentially is a swap of disappointing new players in Stephenson and Hawes. The biggest difference between the two are their salaries -- Stephenson is entering the second year of a three-year deal at $9 million apiece, but the team has an option on the third year. Therefore, the risk is much smaller than bringing in Hawes, who has two more guaranteed years left between $5.5 and $6 million apiece, with a $6 million player option in 2017-2018 that it looks like he’ll pick up.

Let’s look at this trade for each team.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers have made no secrets that they’ve been trying to upgrade their wing position, even though they have recently announced that Stephenson will be used more as a utility player than the starting small forward. If that’s true, it will be interesting to see who else they pick up this summer -- if Barnes is gone and Stephenson isn’t starting, I’m not sure they have a wing on their roster that’s even close to replacement level. This obviously won’t be their final roster, but they certainly are very shallow at that position.

However, at just one year guaranteed for a player who was a borderline All-Star for the Indiana Pacers just a year ago, this probably isn’t a terrible gamble. It probably hurts to give up on Hawes, who was their big free agent signing last summer and this is almost a guarantee that they’ll push hard to re-sign center DeAndre Jordan, even if it costs them a max deal.

It is interesting that Barnes was part of this deal, as most rumors about the Clippers getting a wing included swapping backup guard Jamal Crawford, rather than just merely flipping Barnes for Stephenson in the rotation. They’re obviously banking on Stephenson being a vast improvement, although there’s lots of reasons to be skeptical that will happen.

For all the narratives of Barnes being a bad 3-point shooter, he’s essentially Steph Curry compared to Stephenson this past year. Stephenson finished his only year in Charlotte with a 3-point percentage of 17.1%. The entire list of players in NBA history who took over 100 3-pointers in a season and hit 18% or less of them is…just Stephenson.

However, Stephenson is probably a slight upgrade as a defender and a pretty substantial upgrade as a playmaker. Perhaps the Clippers value those skillsets more than a guy who can sit in the corner and hit a 3-pointer when Chris Paul reverses it to him. There is some upside here, although there’s very obvious downside as well. This isn’t a push-your-chips-into-the-middle move by Doc Rivers, but it does seem a little desperate. Although, if you have a championship window and a couple superstars, you probably should be desperate.

Charlotte Hornets

Just a summer ago, the Hornets went hard after Utah Jazz wing Gordon Hayward and offered him a long-term deal that Utah ended up matching. Stephenson was coming off a couple good years in Indiana, was still very young, and seemed like a very nice consolation prize for an organization that was still celebrating its first playoff berth in years.

However, the chemistry problems that analysts worried about with Stephenson, especially having to share the floor with high-usage players in Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, reared their ugly head early and often and then never went away. The year ended with multiple DNP-CD’s for Stephenson -- not something you like to see out of your $9 million big-name free agent.

This deal no doubt was trying to get out of that situation, but it’s interesting that they took on the Hawes contract to get it done. The Hornets are an organization desperate for outside shooting, something Hawes has done well at times in his career, so there’s probably hope in Charlotte that he can give them some much-needed spacing from a big man spot.

And it’s possible that proves true -- Hawes is just a year removed from shooting 41.6% from the 3-point line on 308 attempts. That’s not just useful: that’s incredibly valuable from a big man. However, his mark of 31.3% from three last season was not. The Hornets operated well a year ago with Josh McRoberts as a big man floor spacer, and there’s legitimate reasons to be hopeful that Hawes can somewhat replicate that role.

However, if that doesn’t happen, the Hornets will be tied up for the next couple years with a big man that may not fit their tough, defense-first model they built en route to the playoffs a season ago. It’s true the Hornets wanted out of the Stephenson contract, but they could have stretched him just as easily as taking in Hawes -- it seems they actually want him to play meaningful minutes for them.

Will it work out for either team? Maybe not, but it’s probably a worthwhile risk for both organizations -- they both got out of deals they badly didn’t want on their books. There’s a good chance that both players will benefit from a change of scenery and the different vibe of their new respective locker rooms. Perhaps the one definite negative is no more Lance versus LeBron battles in the Eastern Conference playoffs anymore.