After two weeks of indecision and fielding lowball, long-term offers from the Indiana Pacers, Lance Stephenson finally agreed to a three-year, $27 milion deal with the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday morning. Because Stephenson was a second round pick out of college three years ago, the Pacers don't have an optiion to match or offer more in hopes of keeping him.
The acquisition puts Charlotte on an upward trajectory as a rising playoff team in the Eastern Conference, just months after getting swept in the first round by the Miami Heat and two years after finishing the 2011-12 season with the worst single-season winning percentage in NBA history.
The Bobcats era was an ignominous period for the Charlotte franchise, but things are looking up now that Stephenson is on board. Presumably, Stephenson will be given more offensive responsibility than he was with Indiana's plodding offense. Meanwhile, the Pacers must regroup after losing a key cog in a unit that faced better odds of winning the East now that Miami's Big Three were out of the way. Stephenson's playoff antics may have rubbed many the wrong way, but he was still talented enough to lead the league in triple doubles and established himself as an elite rebounder from the guard position.
Stephenson signing with Charlotte wasn't completely unexpected. After all Stephenson will be joined in the backcourt by fellow Big East alum and New York native Kemba Walker. In the frontcourt, the Hornets boast grizzled veteran Al Jefferson and heralded rookie Noah Vonleh, whose upside has scouts raving.
Signing with the Hornets would also be an auxiliary F.U. to Larry Bird, whose group was the runner-up to Bob Johnson’s bid to buy the expansion Bobcats in December of 2002.
The Kemba Walker-Stephenson tandem frontcourt reeks of kinetic New York City playground hoops energy and gives Charlotte another piece to build upon in the Eastern Conference. If Noah Vonleh evolves into an All-Star as many scouts anticipate, and Al Jefferson remains healthy, watch out for the Hornets rise in the East.