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NBA AM: Lance Stephenson Struggles in Charlotte

Lance Stephenson has been wildly inconsistent since arriving in Charlotte. Will the move ultimately pay off?

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Hornets not getting return on investment with Lance Stephenson?

After years spent toiling in the league’s basement, the Charlotte Hornets were supposed to take another step forward in the NBA’s hierarchy this season. After all, the team reached the playoffs last season after recording 43 wins and securing a rare appearance in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The team also rebranded itself during the offseason which further increased the excitement around the franchise in the Queen City. The free agent signing of guard Lance Stephenson cemented most observers’ belief that nothing but positive things were ahead for the Hornets.

However, 16 games into the season, the Hornets have struggled to a 4-12 start and if the playoffs began today the franchise would be sitting outside of the playoff chase.

The low hanging fruit, if you’re looking to play the blame game, would be to scrutinize Stephenson as the guard is currently shooting below 40 percent from the floor and averaging less than double digits in scoring per night.

But Hornets head coach Steve Clifford believes the expectations for Stephenson weren’t realistic to begin with when the guard signed on the dotted line.

“To be fair, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar,” Clifford told Michael Wallace of ESPN earlier this week. “He’s not a star. He’s a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years.”

Also to be fair, Stephenson is producing but the guard has been wildly inconsistent and has yet to find his offensive rhythm. On the season he is averaging 9.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 33 minutes per game. On the flip side, Stephenson is shooting 37 percent from the field and only 21 percent from three-point range – which is the true cause of concern.

While Clifford believes Stephenson has the talent, the veteran coach cautions that Stephenson is still a work in progress in terms of development.

“It’s different. It’s not easy,” Clifford said. “He started two years before he got here. He played on a really good team, so everybody saw him play when no one else was playing. When Al Jefferson came here, he’d [averaged] 19 [points] and eight [rebounds] for like 10 years. You knew what you were going to get. And that’s what Lance needs to become. In many ways it’s not fair.

I’ve told [Stephenson] this. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been around Kobe [Bryant] and [Tracy] McGrady. They were superstars. I was also around Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. They were two-, three-year All-Stars. [Stephenson has] got a lot of work to get to that level. Everybody proclaimed him as this guy, and if you remember the first time we got him, I said he’s got to develop into that.”

The Hornets’  slate doesn’t get much easier with Golden State, Atlanta, Chicago and Memphis on the schedule over the next week.

Celtics forward Brandon Bass garnering trade interest

December 15 is the universally acknowledged date of when the NBA’s trade window typically begins. That’s the date where free agents signed over the summer can be included in trade packages.

One player to keep an eye on as we approach trade season is Boston Celtics forward Brandon Bass. The 29 year old veteran is in the final year of his current deal worth $6.9 million and may not be in Boston’s future plans as the franchise continues to rebuild.

According to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, teams are beginning to inquire about Bass’ status in Boston and whether they might be able to pry him away from the team before the trade deadline.

Scouts and opposing front-office types have begun to speak and inquire about the 29-year-old forward, a practice that’s generally a precursor to discussing a trade. Danny Ainge could not be reached on whether teams have called about Bass — not that he would say anyway — but it certainly makes sense.

Bass is averaging 8.3 points and 3.4 rebounds on 53 percent shooting in 12 games this season. The veteran is averaging his lowest minutes (18.5) since the 2010 campaign with the Orlando Magic.

Former All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo believes Bass could be a key ingredient if a team looking for their final piece is able to land the forward in a deal.

“If there’s a team competing for a championship and they could steal him, that’d be big,” Rondo said.

The Celtics currently have $74 million on the books this season, however, the club has plenty of expiring deals and will enter the summer with just $33 million in guaranteed salaries for the 2015 campaign.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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