By Rick Bonnell The Charlotte Observer
LAS VEGAS — Following an all-night negotiating session, the Charlotte Hornets have come to an agreement to sign Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson.
Under terms of the agreement, Stephenson will make $9 million in 2014-15 and $9 million in 2015-16. Stephenson will get a slight raise in 2016-17 if the Hornets pick up the team option.
Stephenson fills an obvious need, as the Hornets were weak offensively at the shooting guard and small forward positions. The 6-foot-5 playmaker had a breakthrough season statistically, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He shot 49 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range.
However, he has a quirky personality that seems to have limited his market when he became an unrestricted free agent July 1.
The Pacers offered Stephenson $44 million over five seasons, and reportedly did not come off that number. Stephenson thought he was worth considerably more.
Wednesday, Stephenson tweeted:
“Indy, I had a great 4 years. Thank you Larry Bird, the fans, my coaches and teammates for the incredible experience. I will never forget any of you! I now have to look to the next phase of my career and the wonderful opportunity to continue to grow as a player and as a person in Charlotte! I’m excited to play for this franchise and the fans!! (hashtag) buzzcity”
Tuesday, following the summer Board of Governors meeting, Pacers owner Herb Simon reiterated to the Indianapolis Star that his franchise believes its offer to Stephenson is more than fair.
“We made him a wonderful offer and they didn’t think it was enough, so it’s a simple situation,” Simon told the Star.
The Hornets met with Stephenson’s representatives Tuesday night in Las Vegas, where the team is playing in summer league. Stephenson got slightly more money per season by coming to Charlotte, but for fewer guaranteed years.
The Hornets have plenty of cap room to make this deal. Their first choice was restricted free agent Gordon Hayward, who was offered $63 million over four years. But the Utah Jazz matched that offer sheet Saturday.
In the same span Josh McRoberts, the Hornets’ starting power forward last season, chose to sign with the Miami Heat for $23 million over four years.
The Hornets stayed clear of Stephenson until the last 48 hours, as alternatives dried up.
They were in the bottom third of the 30-team NBA last season in scoring, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and three-point percentage. The wing combination of small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and shooting guard Gerald Henderson hasn’t demonstrated the shooting range to punish teams for double-teaming center Al Jefferson in the post.
But the question becomes how Stephenson’s quirkiness might play out once he signs a lucrative contract extension. He famously blew in opponent LeBron James’ ear in the playoffs. He was fined for flopping this season and was charged with 14 technical fouls, fourth-most in the NBA.
It is not the Hornets’ habit to take frequent risks on high-maintenance players. Trading for Stephen Jackson worked out for two seasons before they traded him on to the Milwaukee Bucks. Now they have drafted P.J. Hairston, a player who lost his NCAA eligibility over improper benefits and who recently was cited for punching a teenager during a pickup game at a Durham YMCA.
Hornets owner Michael Jordan has said one of his team’s greatest strengths last season was the character of the players on the roster. Did that embolden the front office to pursue Stepehenson? Is Stephenson now a threat to that chemistry?
Certainly the Hornets faced competitive pressure in the Eastern Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers improved dramatically with the addition of James, so that’s a non-playoff team in the East that now looks like a post-season lock. While the Heat lost James, they weakened the Hornets with the signing of McRoberts.
It’s possible the Hornets would have struggled just to make the playoffs this season without upgrading the roster with a move like Stephenson