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“It’s simply that I can’t find a group that plays well when he’s out there.”
That’s rather brutal, and completely accurate. Charlotte’s prized 2014 free agent acquisition sat out all of Charlotte’s 102-78 win over Detroit on Wednesday, in spite of the fact that the Hornets had the game well in hand from the outset. The absence marked the second straight game that Stephenson missed due to a coach’s decision.
Charlotte is playing for its playoff lives, attempting to reach the postseason for the second straight year, as the team is two games out of the Eastern bracket with eight to play. The squad can’t afford any missteps this late in the game, and needed a weary Pistons outfit in town to pull off a rare blowout. Even with the game decided with plenty of time left, Clifford kept Stephenson on the bench knowing full well that he would be pegged with question after question about his swingman following the contest.
Clifford beat the press to the punch, in this regard, discussing his move to sign Stephenson in the offseason:
“Lance is here because of me. I’m the one that wanted Lance.”
Just not in spring, apparently.
Stephenson, speaking after his first DNP-CD, took the professional route in response …
''It's a coach's decision and my job is to keep a positive attitude,'' Stephenson told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
… and he does not thinking leaving the Indiana Pacers was a mistake …
''Not at all,'' Stephenson said. ''I love this system. I love my coaches. I love my teammates. Some people come into systems and fit right in. Some people it takes time. I feel like with me I'm going to take time.''
Clifford continued on with that line of thinking, offering a bit of an excuse for Lance’s poor play:
''I think the biggest thing for him is he's  and this is the first time he's gone somewhere different,'' Clifford said. ''He's played for the same team and same coach for four years with the same basic offensive and defensive structure.''
The sides have had their say. There apparently is mutual respect there, and not a lot of sentiments that should be dropping jaws.
This doesn’t take away from the knowledge that Lance Stephenson has been an absolute disaster in Charlotte.
This may come off as a bit of sportswriter-ese, but he is the biggest reason Charlotte will likely miss the playoffs this season. Had Stephenson provided even an approximation of his play from last season in Indiana, the Hornets would have done more successful things with the 1532 minutes he’s played so far – and, to be frank, Stephenson would have played far more than 1532 minutes. It was always going to be a struggle for Clifford’s crew to make the postseason again with that rotation, but even a B-level Stephenson would have helped.
Instead, Lance has turned in a terrible season. The Hornets play far, far better basketball with him off the court, and the move to the bench (letting Stephenson have his way against the second unit) also produced poor results. Stephenson is stuck behind Jeff Taylor (shooting just under 37 percent) as a starter and Troy Daniels, Brian Roberts and clueless rookie Noah Vonleh in the rotation.
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Clifford credits the departure from Indiana’s system – Stephenson had only played in games that Frank Vogel had coached prior to 2014-15 – but we’re now in April and this is hardly credible as an excuse. If the Hornets do fall out of the playoff race in the coming days, something that is quite possible considering Brooklyn’s recent stretch of stellar play, the Hornets coach would then be forced to own up to his own words and play Stephenson repeated minutes in an attempt to acclimate him to the Hornet system.
Steve Clifford probably won’t do that, and we wouldn’t blame him for it. Stephenson’s ball-handling quirks and all-around goofiness has toned down a bit since he came to Charlotte, but he’s turning the ball over at just about the same rate – the guy can’t even screw up in an entertaining fashion anymore. He rarely cuts, as he had to in what was Indiana’s often staid and misdirection-heavy offensive setup, and his rebounding has dipped. At 37.7 percent from the field on the season, the dude can’t make a shot.
Lance’s contract isn’t terrible, he’s due to make $9 million next season and the team likely opt out of the final season of his deal during the nutty 2016 free agent summer – even if he turns in another stinker of a season, there will be teams willing to take a chance on a player who won’t turn 26 until training camp begins. The Hornets didn’t mind letting it be known that Stephenson could be had in a trade earlier this year, but even if Lance rebounds in 2015-16 there aren’t a lot of franchises that would be willing to swap good assets for a player as mercurial as Lance.
In the meantime, the Hornets are stuck with a player that clearly isn’t interested in providing the sort of all out play that made him a dangerous performer (for both team and opponent) in Indiana. And even if the Hornets bow out in the next couple of games, don’t expect to see Stephenson coming off that bench anytime soon.
Unless Steve Clifford gets tired of answering questions about him, I suppose. A reasonable frustration, given the circumstances.
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