Last week I wrote about how the Lance Stephenson signing revealed the different partitions of the Hornets fan base, indicating that the team has every description of fan needed to become a legitimately discussed and cared about NBA franchise. In that piece I promised to discuss how Stephenson fits in with the team on the court. Not only am I here to do that, but you get a bonus for being a loyal reader. I am going to address the entire Hornets offseason as well! Best post this week or best post ever?
When the Utah Jazz matched the max contract the Hornets offered Gordon Hayward, many thought the team was in for a rough offseason. After all, the shine from the NBA Draft quickly wore off when PJ Hairston stuck a high schooler square in the grill during a pickup game at a Durham YMCA. While the hefty $63 million max offer to Hayward raised eyebrows, missing out on him all together was a disappointment to many. Hayward would have fit in perfectly, but no point in discussing that now. Plus, allow me to let you in on a little secret. He probably wasn’t worth the price.
The confusmay (my new word for confusion combined with dismay) was only heightened when word leaked that skilled power forward and elite Jesus doppelganger Josh McRoberts elected to sign with Miami instead of Charlotte. A Southern town without Jesus is simply unthinkable. Fire and brimstone were certainly headed Charlotte’s way.
Fortunately, pastor Rich Cho saved us. First, he signed Marvin Williams to a 2-year, $14 million deal. This seems steep for a role player, but he does everything as well, if not better, than McRoberts aside from passing the ball. He is a better shooter, rebounder and defender. Not to mention a great mentor for a fellow Tar Heel on the team. However, ball movement is key in Steve Clifford’s offense, which explains why the team wanted McRoberts back so badly. You simply can’t brush aside the loss of McRoberts. Still, Williams is a more than capable replacement who adds a bit of offense.
While Williams was a solid if not spectacular addition, the team still needed more offense and the most obvious spot was the shooting guard and small forward positions. Hairston helps at shooting guard, but he is not ready to start in the NBA and is more a gunner suited for coming off the bench much like Gary Neal. For a couple of weeks, the name that was constantly brought up by fans was Lance Stephenson. He reportedly turned down a 5-year deal worth $8.8 million per year from Indiana and could be had for much cheaper than Hayward despite comparable skills on the court. Charlotte was seemingly not interested, as echoed by an oft-arrogant local beat writer who sarcastically quipped at the idea that the Hornets might sign Stephenson. This despite other reports that contradicted such a stance.
Once the Houston Rockets refused to match the Dallas Mavericks offer to Chandler Parsons, the Hornets were suddenly able to bid against only the Pacers for Stephenson’s services. Dallas was reportedly ready to shell out an offer to Lance had Houston matched for Parsons. Thank you, Houston. We have no problem. Ugh, sorry about that joke.
One trip to Las Vegas for the Hornets brass and boom. One beat reporter is back tracking, the Hornets sign Lance Stephenson and everybody is excited again after a questionable start to free agency. Now, how does Lance fit in with the Hornets on the court? I will ignore his issues off the court and during dead balls, because that is impossible to predict or analyze, but likely did play a role in him signing for just $9 million per year and giving the Hornets a team option for the third and final year of the deal. Instead, I’ll focus on the sport he is paid to play.
Quite simply, he’s as close to as perfect a fit basketball-wise as Charlotte could ask for, especially given the price. For nearly half the cost of Hayward, Charlotte gets a second ball handler to complement Kemba Walker, a guy who can get to the rim at will, a vicious defender and somebody who, as the whole country knows, is not afraid of the big shot and will never back down. #BornReady for a reason.
For the first time possibly ever, Charlotte has two backcourt players who must be guarded closely. The obvious impact is this frees up Al Jefferson down low to do his thing. And that thing is about as good as it gets in the NBA. Additionally, the duo of Stephenson and MKG on the wings creates arguably the best pair of starting wing defenders in the NBA, assuming Andrew Wiggins will not be playing alongside LeBron James this fall. Clifford is likely salivating at the on-ball pressure and size he can attack opposing offenses with on the wings.
Now, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Stephenson must be willing to keep the ball moving in Clifford’s offense. Like many a New Yorker, he is prone to hold the ball and attempt to take his man one-on-one. This can certainly be effective, but the offense runs through Jefferson first, second and third. Get him the ball. Additionally, his shooting is streaky if not consistent, but that kind of summarizes Stephenson as a whole. To become the star he wants to be in order to get paid in three years like he wants to be, Stephenson must become a more consistent player. He’s no longer a spark-plug off the bench. He’ll need to be a nightly contributor.
I have not addressed the role of Vonleh yet. I am not sure how much playing time he will see this season. Williams and Cody Zeller are both ahead of him at the moment and while Vonleh has the superior skillset of the trio, he will take some time to grow into the NBA, much like Zeller did. However, he does add to a great bench, which leads me to what I am most excited about with this offseason. Depth.
You could argue the Hornets are one of the deepest teams in the entire league. Add in the addition of sharpshooting backup point guard Brian Roberts and nearly every player on the roster is capable of playing an significant role on the team. That won’t happen of course, but take a look at the projected 2014-15 roster compared to last years squad, a playoff team that finished just a game out of the 5th seed, mind you.
While I greatly appreciate the contributions of the likes of CDR, Anthony Tolliver and Luke Ridnour. OK, maybe not Ridnour, but the point remains that the new pieces in place make this team much deeper and much more versatile offensively. Three-point shooting, a bugaboo for this franchise for many years was addressed with Williams, Roberts and Hairston. Additionally, Gerald Henderson, who could very well be traded, at the least provides a great bench player with loads of starting experience. The team essentially turned McRoberts, CDR, Ridnour, DJ White and Tolliver into Williams, Stephenson, Roberts, Hairston and Vonleh. Not bad, huh?
Overall, the Hornets are a much improved squad, but so is much of the Eastern Conference. Still, it should be an exciting year for the team and especially the city of Charlotte. I cannot wait and I fully expect the Hornets to contend for a division title and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Go Heels Go America