Lance Stephenson is getting the change of scenery he’s been looking for and needing ever since … well, he only left Indiana for Charlotte a mere 11 months ago.
But it never worked for the Brooklyn native with the Charlotte Hornets, the team Stephenson signed with last July as a free agent. So now he is going to the L.A. Clippers, as they’re looking to upgrade their roster after their monumental collapse against the Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs.
Stephenson, 24, was traded on Monday night to the Clippers for veteran forward Matt Barnes and backup center Spencer Hawes.
The marriage between Stephenson and Michael Jordan’s Hornets was on the rocks almost immediately, as the Hornets tried last season to part ways with the Lincoln graduate after signing him to a 3-year, $27-million deal last July. The Nets were one of only a few teams to try to get Stephenson at the trading deadline, having extensive talks with the Hornets without being able to complete a deal.
But instead of coming home to Barclays Center, Stephenson is switching coasts and conferences. There was little doubt among NBA observers that Stephenson would be moved sometime this off-season. Jordan believes that it's best to admit a mistake and move on.
“There were no directives to trade Lance,” Charlotte GM Rich Cho said Monday. “Just talking philosophy, what M.J. said is important: Give it some time to work out, but if it doesn’t work out, move on.”
They have and he has, as Stephenson now goes from a struggling lottery team to a team that has Chris Paul and Blake Griffin but is coming off one of the worst playoff defeats any team has had in years.
The Clippers opened the playoffs by dethroning defending champ San Antonio in a classic seven-game series, and then took a commanding 3-1 lead against the Rockets. But they ended up blowing the series, including a memorable Game 6 collapse in Los Angeles when they squandered what looked like an insurmountable 19-point, fourth-quarter lead.
Over the last few weeks, the Clippers knew they’d have to somehow get an infusion of more talent to get over the hump, even with limited cap space precluding a major free-agent signing this summer.
They intend to re-sign D’Andre Jordan, one of the top centers in the NBA.
But they need more help. So they’ve rolled the dice on Stephenson, who went from starter to little-used bench player in almost no time for the Hornets.
After being sent to Doc Rivers’ team, Stephenson sent out a tweet of a picture of himself in a Clippers jersey, along with a message: “Looking forward to doing whatever I can to help bring a championship to Los Angeles and Clipper Nation.”
The Clippers are keeping their fingers crossed that the talented Stephenson will get his act together on the court and give them a defensive presence that he showed in helping the Pacers get to the East Finals for two straight seasons. They made the trade after talking to several of his former coaches to investigate whether he’ll fit in with their top stars.
The Clips are thinking that they can go deeper in the playoffs with Stephenson, 24, who averaged only 26 minutes a game last season and posted numbers that were down across the board from his last season in Indiana. He averaged only 8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
“I thought it was a shock to his system that he was not playing so much,’’ Cho said. “But he handled it very professionally. Sometimes when you make a trade or a signing it just doesn’t work out well. He never fit in great. Sometimes you don’t know how a player will fit until he plays for your team.”
That’s what’s facing the Clippers now, but it’s also up to Stephenson to make it work this time.
Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 22 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence.