Desperate for help on the wings and low on cap flexibility with which to make it happen, the Los Angeles Clippers have landed the mercurial Stephenson, whose first season in Charlotte is best classified as a disaster.
This is the definition of a low-risk, high-reward gamble for the Clippers, who may feel they’re in a position where such a roll of the dice is necessary. Their core is strong, particularly if they can re-sign unrestricted free agentDeAndre Jordan, but depth issues have plagued them, and president and head coach Doc Rivers has done a poor job managing the cap and the end of the roster.
The Clippers find themselves in need of talent but with few avenues to acquire it, with little in the way of salary cap exceptions and no picks in the 2015 NBA Draft. Taking a flier on a player who may have become undervalued following a season in which he shot 37.6 percent from the floor, barely hit an outside jumper, and saw his numbers – and role – decline across the board, may represent the best way to land a quality player without surrendering much in return.
Stephenson is a risky proposition from a chemistry standpoint, but Rivers has consistently taken chances on players, believing the strong culture he creates can help. The former Indiana Pacers second-round pick also stands as only a one-year financial risk, with a $9-million salary for 2015-16 and a $9.4-million team option for the season after.
In surrendering Barnes, the Clippers lose a player lauded for his toughness and someone who started 74 regular season games and all 14 playoff games for the team, but one whose upside is far inferior to that of Stephenson. Giving up on Hawes admits having made a mistake with last summer’s mid-level exception, but the Clippers likely see value in ridding themselves of the three years and $17.3 million remaining on his contract.
The trade is essentially cap-neutral for the Clippers, but the Hornets shed money by waiving Barnes, as only $1 million of his $3.5-million salary for next year is guaranteed. That’s something they’re reportedly undecided on for the time being. Hawes, who is a 35.1-percent shooter from outside for his career, brings some much needed floor spacing to a Charlotte team light on marksmen.
But Stephenson is the most interesting piece here, and the Hornets will probably be thrilled to get Hawes and some minor cap relief in return at this point. The 24-year-old saw his averages crater to 8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists, and he was glued to head coach Steve Clifford’s bench late in the season.
The fit for the Clippers, both on and off the court, is somewhat tenuous – he and Jamal Crawford are far from complementary pieces, and Chris Paul doesn’t suffer fools lightly – but L.A. needs talent more than anything else right now. It seems they’re willing to take a leap of faith in the strength of their culture and figure out how the pieces work together later if it means an infusion of offensive aptitude.