Lance Stephenson often gets matched with the Nets in hypothetical trade/free agency situations. After all, Stephenson went to Lincoln High School in Brooklyn's Coney Island and his nickname is "born ready." And he's stlll young, 25 years old.
But are the Nets ready for Lance Stephenson, Brooklyn background or not? It's a question bound to be raised now that he's once again a free agent.
Stephenson had high expectations coming out of Lincoln -- the highest scorer not just in New York City history, but New York State as well. Overall, with a few exceptions, he hasn't been able to live up to those lofty expectations. Stephenson had a checkered history at Lincoln High School and a disappointing one-and-done season at Cincinnati.
By the time the 2010 Draft had rolled around, the Nets, flush with Mikhail Prokhorov's cash for the first time, discussed buying a pick in the second round to get Stephenson but his problems off the court scared the Nets away. Even with the Nets moving to Brooklyn, no one was ready to take him. The Pacers took him at No. 40, a big drop from where he had thought he might be taken.
A few months later, the Nets decision looked very smart. Stephenson, then 19, was arrested on assault, menacing and harassment charges. Specifically, Brooklyn prosecutors said, after pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs, grabbed her and hit her head on the bottom step. Pacers president Larry Bird called Stephenson's arrest "very disappointing to the Pacers franchise and to me personally."
Stephenson escaped jail time, but his reputation as a troublemaker, a knucklehead in NBA terms, was secure. He rescued it in 2014 when he took off, first in regular season, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists, while shooting 35.2 percent from deep. He had five triple-doubles to lead the league. His ear blowing incident with LeBron aside, he continued his solid play in the post-season, replicating those numbers almost to a T in the Pacers 19-game playoff run. At 6'5" and 230 pounds, he could play three positions.
Charlotte took a chance on him in the off-season, giving him a $27.4 million contract, with the third year, a team option at $9.4 million. Almost immediately, the Hornets regretted it. He and Coach Steve Clifford butted heads. Clifford thought he was a bad influence in the Hornets locker room and culture. Charlotte tried to trade him. The Nets were supposedly interested, but Billy King wasn't.
Dmitry Razumov and Brett Yormark reportedly wanted the Nets to acquire Stephenson, but King refused to go after the troubled Brooklyn native. King thought that bringing in Stephenson would hurt the team's culture. Stephenson had a miserable year, his 17.1 percent three point average a historic low for an NBA player. At one point, there were rumors of a return to Indiana, but after a poll of his former teammates, the Pacers passed.
In the off-season, he was traded by the Hornets to the Clippers for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes. Doc Rivers hoped for a rebound. It didn't happen. The Clippers dumped him on the Grizzlies in return for Jeff Green's expiring deal and a protected 2019 first round pick. Initially, it looked like Memphis would waive him, but his coach and teammates petitioned the front office to hold on to him.
He helped the injury-depleted Grizz make the playoffs, In a small sample with Memphis, Stephenson played some of his best basketball since leaving Indiana. In 26 games with the Grizzlies, Stephenson averaged 14.3 points and 4.4 rebounds in 26.6 minutes per game.
He won the praise of his coach. Dave Joeger gave him freedom to create off the dribble and he became one of the team's best playmakers with Mike Conley out. "As things grind down a little bit in the playoffs, baskets are hard to come by," said Joerger. "To go get your own shot is tough. But Lance can get baskets."
Again, Stephenson played well in the post-season, but now he is at a crossroads. Will Sean Marks go after Stephenson in free agency? Memphis might have kept him if it wasn't for their need to retain Conley among others in free agency.
Despite Stephenson's troubles off the court he certainly has talent ... and a lot of links to this current Nets team. Being born and raised in Brooklyn while making a name for himself as one of the country's best high school basketball players is one of them.
Stephenson was also Sean Kilpatrick's college roommate at Cincinnati. We don't know what Kilpatrick might say of his former teammate. The newest member of the Nets and another Coney Island native, Isaiah Whitehead, said he used Stephenson as an advisor and the two Brooklyn natives are reportedly close.
Going after Stephenson is certainly a risky proposition. Marks keeps talking about "character" guys and Stephenson's picture isn't turning up in any dictionary that includes the word. But that said, bringing in another Brooklyn born player, at a reasonable price, could further excite the borough. Homegrown talent in action.
Stephenson is going to attempt to use those Memphis stats as a tool to get a new deal for this coming year. A Brooklyn pairing could provide Stephenson the comfort of being around friends and family, but also could allow for Stephenson to go back to old habits that troubled him in the past.
Will the Nets go after Stephenson? That we don't know yet, but Stephenson has always wanted to play for his hometown team. In 2013, he told our Dexter Henry, "When I was young, I always dreamed for an NBA team to be in Brooklyn and now it's really happening," "
It certainty sounds like an intriguing idea. An intriguing and perhaps very risky one.