A couple of years ago Michael Jordan was asked what he’s learned since becoming majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets.
Jordan replied that in a business as competitive as major-league sports, it’s essential to admit mistakes and rectify them as quickly as possible.
I can’t think of a better example of that than the trade Monday night that sent Lance Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers. This deal had to happen regardless of what the Hornets took back. Stephenson isn’t a bad person, but he was a terrible fit for what the Hornets needed. That wasn’t about to change. His skill set and the Hornets’ needs simply didn’t intersect and to continue to play a prideful shooting guard, making $9 million a season, in a bit role would have gotten worse for everyone involved.
So Monday the Hornets made a call to move on, regardless of how much or little they got back in a trade. Acquiring Spencer Hawes from the Clippers adds future payroll responsibility they wouldn’t have had had they just not picked up Stephenson’s team option a year from now. But divorcing from the decision to sign Stephenson last July had to happen now, not later. The situation was sucking the energy out of that locker room.
So now they move on to what? Answering five questions this trade poses:
Will Matt Barnes ever play as a Hornet?
The Hornets will look to trade his contract, which has a current salary-cap value of about $3.5 million. But from what I’m told, if the Hornets (or another team acquiring Barnes’ contract) cuts him before July 1, only about $1 million of Barnes’ salary is guaranteed.
Barnes played for Hornets coach Steve Clifford previously in Orlando. He still has a place in the NBA 12 seasons into his career. But probably not here, where Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson will play a lot (assuming Henderson doesn’t opt out of his contract) and they figure to get another wing player through the draft or free-agency.
Clearing a roster spot, if you can do it cost-effectively, makes more sense than keeping Barnes.
What role will Hawes have here?
He makes 3-pointers and that has some value on a team that finished last in 3-point accuracy last season (31.8 percent).
The Clippers signed Hawes last summer, then didn’t use him much. He’s a 7-footer who has made 3s at a 35 percent rate over an eight-season NBA career. Clifford said Tuesday he’s willing to give up a little defense to improve this team offensively. Playing Hawes at power forward could create some spacing for center Al Jefferson in the lane, which is much needed.
But there’s a reason the Clippers made Hawes available in trade, just as the Hornets did with Stephenson. So this is a wait-and-see proposition.
What did it cost the Hornets to make this deal?
The Hornets could have been done with Stephenson’s contract after the 2015-16 season. Hawes’contract guarantees him about $5.5 million this season and about $5.8 million next season. He has a player option that would guarantee another $6 million for the 2017-18 season.
So, yes, he eats up some future payroll that Stephenson would not have. But keep in mind when the new national television contract kicks in the summer of 2016, the Hornets (and most other teams) will gain a wealth of cap room.
Who on the roster benefits from this trade?
I would say Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker.
Both these guys did what team captains are supposed to do: support teammates and don’t say anything to undermine chemistry. But you know all the “How does Lance fit?” questions from media got old for both of them.
Stephenson needed the ball a lot to be effective, which made it hard to play him and Walker together. Henderson was initially replaced in the starting lineup by Stephenson when it turned out Henderson was the more reliable and efficient alternative at shooting guard.
Henderson and Walker did everything possible to accommodate and incorporate Stephenson into the mix. That is no longer their burden.
What now at shooting guard?
The Hornets need more of a pure shooter to complement Henderson at the position than Stephenson could be. He literally had the worst 3-point shooting season (17.1 percent) in NBA history among players attempting 100 or more 3s.
Maybe this is about giving more playing time to P.J. Hairston and/or Troy Daniels. Maybe its about drafting a great shooter. Maybe it’s about devoting the mid-level exception to a free-agent shooter.
Maybe it’s all three because something has to be addressed.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell