The Los Angeles Clippers were almost to a place they have never been, the Western Conference Finals. They held a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets and many thought they had pulled it together at the right time. History was going to go the way of the Clippers finally right? Well, the Rockets decided they were not ready to go home and turned the series around quickly, erasing a 3-1 deficit and blowing out the Clippers in a crucial Game 7. The dreams of heading to the Western Conference Finals was over for Los Angeles. Fans of the game went from praising Chris Paul for coming up big in Game 7 versus the defending-champion San Antonio Spurs to wearing him out on social media for his performance in Game 7 versus the Rockets. Many took a look at the Clippers going into the offseason and wondered what all they could do. Obviously their main concern was signing center DeAndre Jordan back, but the team had more work than that to do in regards to improving their team. Well, on Tuesday night, the Clippers decided to roll the dice and make a move. The Clippers are trading small forward Matt Barnes and forward Spencer Hawes to the Charlotte Hornets for shooting guard Lance Stephenson. This trade sent shockwaves, as the Clippers are taking a chance on Stephenson to come through. As for the Hornets, they rid themselves of Stephenson, who was not very good for the Hornets, averaging an astonishing 8.2 points per game. This trade is something that makes many scratch their heads in terms of the Clippers. And it could definitely go either way in the grand scheme of things. But there are so many positives that can come out of this move.
Lance Stephenson is known as a volatile player at times. The main thought that some have is “why would Doc take on this guy”? Well, there are some positives to this one. Defensively, Stephenson is a physical defender. If you take a look at the Clippers last season, Chris Paul was their best perimeter defender. That may be good due to the state of point guards in the NBA, but you need that one wing defender that can make it happen versus guys like James Harden, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Andrew Wiggins. No offense to JJ Reddick, but there is no way that he is guarding any of the guys that have been mentioned. And with Reddick there, opponents would be able to put pressure on the bigs of the Clippers. With Stephenson in the lineup, it gives the Clippers a guy that can handle his own while also allowing the bigs of the Clippers to control the paint. With a coach like Doc Rivers, Stephenson could be a dream for him. With the right focus and the right coach in his ear, Stephenson has shown that he can be a good player on the defensive end. For example, look at the problems he caused at times for LeBron James when LeBron was in Miami and Stephenson was in Indiana. Now imagine if Doc can get him to focus in like that for all of the game. Along with his defensive prowess, Stephenson also brings an added toughness to the perimeter defenders that the Clippers never had. Barnes has been a tough wing defender for them, but he doesn’t bring that dog in him that Lance can bring to a team. And with him added, the toughness level of the Clippers just went up. He and DeAndre
But the effect of Stephenson is not just felt on the defensive end of the court. Stephenson has grown as an offensive player over his time in the NBA. And when he went to the Charlotte Hornets, he was expected to take that next step in his development. Instead, he went to a team that had a guard that dominated the ball in Kemba Walker. That meant that Stephenson had to play more off the ball than he was used to in his career. And that ended up in the disaster that was his lone season in Charlotte. With the Clippers, he is not going to be asked to be the main focus offensively. Some may think it’s a bad thing that he is not the focus, but it will be what is best for his career. Stephenson is a good player when he is not the main perimeter threat. With Paul there, he will take some of that burden he had in Charlotte off his hands. And there will be times where he will have to make something happen when he is off the ball. But the main effect he will have on this team is when Paul is out of the game. The Clippers did not have a solid guy off the bench last year to take over the ball-handling duties. They put guys like Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and even let Blake Griffin play the point guard spot a little against the Houston Rockets when Paul was out due to injury. No offense to any of them, but Lance proved he can handle that position a little bit better than these guys can. He is a playmaker and the Clippers need another one of those coming in to play for them, whether it be in the starting lineup or off the bench. Either way, he would be a help to them and make their offense even more diverse than it was last season.
The biggest thing that will be good for Lance Stephenson coming to the Clippers is the leadership. In Charlotte, he was expected to be a leader. And if you know anything about Stephenson, he is not one that is ready to lead a team. He is still figuring out who he is and is considered by some not to be mentally there at all times. For a team as young as Charlotte was, there is no way that Stephenson should have ever been brought in to be a leader of that team. Sure, he is a talented player, but leadership is not one of his strong suits. With the Clippers, he is now in position to receive leadership. Doc Rivers is a guy that has been known to exhibit great leadership and be an example for his players. And many players that have played for Doc have loved every second they have played for him. His ability to focus and Stephenson will be a key ingredient in his success there if he is to have some. But not only will he be receiving leadership from Doc Rivers, but he will be receiving leadership from Chris Paul. Many have had jokes for Chris Paul over the years for his inability to make it deep in the playoffs, but the one thing you can never take away from him is his leadership abilities. Paul has a great ability to know when to push players and when to encourage them. His perfect mix of pushing buttons will be something that will help Stephenson mesh into this team seamlessly. Paul needs Stephenson there and he wants to win above all things, so he will do what needs to be done to get Stephenson up to speed.
The Clippers made a move that many did not see coming. They got younger on the perimeter while adding a guy that could have a better effect on both ends than Matt Barnes. But the biggest question mark for him is his personality. If he listens to Doc Rivers and Chris Paul, he can be a valuable assets to this team and help make them better. But if he does not listen to those two, then we could see knucklehead Lance make an appearance once again. The ball is in Lance’s court and he could potentially make himself some more money as he could potentially be a free agent after this year (Clippers hold the team option for him after the 2015-2016 season). Another bonus for the Clippers in this one is if Lance acts up, they only got rid of a backup big man they signed that failed to crack their rotation (Spencer Hawes) and a swingman that is getting long in the tooth in the NBA (Matt Barnes). The chips have been pushed to the table for Doc and he is gambling on being able to get the best out of Stephenson. This move, like the move he made last season to trade for his son midseason, will be one that will be closely watched all season long. And it will be interesting to see how it pans out.