The Charlotte Hornets coach takes responsibly for adding the problematic free agent guard last summer.
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford claimed he was the reason that the team signed guard Lance Stephenson last July, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
That’s not a good thing to be admitting to right now, given the season Stephenson has had. Stephenson was supposed to help a promising team take the next step towards contention, but has been a disaster instead.
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The 24-year-old has averaged 8.3 points, 4.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds per season this year with a PER of 9.03, which ranks 331st out of 357 qualified players. Stephenson is shooting 37.7 percent from the field this season, including an almost unbelievable 16 percent from three.
Clifford voiced his frustrations earlier this week, saying he just couldn’t find a unit that plays well together when Stephenson is on the floor. That has led to two straight DNPs for Stephenson due to coaches decisions as the Hornets scramble to secure a playoff birth in the weak bottom of the East.
Barring a miracle turnaround in 2015-16, signing Stephenson is going to be a massive mistake in Charlotte. He’s hurt a team full of potential this season and will likely continue to do so next year.
There just may be nothing the Hornets can do about it now. Stephenson will carry a cap hit of $9 million next season before Charlotte almost certainly exercises its club option before 2016.
Even if that contract isn’t overwhelming, no team is going to be willing to take on the money and all the luggage Stephenson brings. Some team will take a chance on him in free agency as he’s still young and has ability, but Stephenson may be unable to ever match the quality he showed with the Indiana Pacers again.
It seems Frank Vogel runs the only system Stephenson can thrive in. Charlotte’s best option may be to accept the dead money and keep Stephenson on the bench.
The ordeal also raises questions about Clifford’s future as the coach of the Hornets. As a very disappointing season nears its end, Clifford’s seat is getting warmer.
Still, it would be a mistake to fire Clifford at this point, even if he takes the responsibility for Stephenson. Clifford is just one year removed from being a legitimate coach of the year candidate and helped turn the franchise around, particularly on the defensive end.
The Hornets have been quick to fire coaches in recent times, so nothing is guaranteed for Clifford. A playoff berth, even as the eight seed in the East, would likely (and deservedly) give him at least next season.
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