Former Pacers guard/wrestling heel Lance Stephenson signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets early Wednesday morning, significantly weakening last year's No. 1 seed and making Charlotte a little more plucky.
Stephenson turned down a five-year, $44 million offer from Indiana earlier in free agency. The Hornets deal is barely higher in terms of average annual value, but could afford Stephenson more flexibility in the long run. If Stephenson plays the full three years of the contract (the third season is a team option) he will re-enter free agency at 26. The risk, of course, is if Stephenson can behave well enough to earn the trust of another front office.
Indiana now has a gaping hole at shooting guard, and their 2015 prospects are just as murky as those of the rest of the Eastern Conference teams. It's much harder to imagine Indiana repeating as conference champions without Lance, who, despite being a crazy person, was a central and dynamic piece of the Pacers' offense
The Hornets, on the other hand, made out great. Instead of having to spend $63 million on Gordon Hayward, who was plucked back by the Jazz after Charlotte gave him an offer sheet, they spent $41 million on Stephenson and Marvin Williams, a combination that should be able to give them roughly the same production that Hayward would have.
This move makes the East in general more interesting as well. The Hornets can now be counted as one of the good-but-not-great teams—Washington, Indiana, Miami, Chicago, Cleveland, and Toronto—that stock the conference. The basketball may not be as good as what's played in the West, but it should be an interesting season.