The Los Angeles Clippers find themselves in a weird conundrum with Lance Stephenson. The winger (and occasional auxiliary power forward) has appeared in each of the last two games, though it's looking like he'll find his way back on the bench once (if) the team gets back to full health. He played 22 minutes in Friday's win over the Lakers with Paul Pierce out resting, and only nine minutes with Pierce back in the lineup Sunday. Once Blake Griffin returns -- barring another injury, of course -- Stephenson may well be jettisoned from the rotation again.
Once the team pulled the plug on the Josh Smith experiment a couple of weeks ago, many figured Stephenson would be the next Clipper out the door. The problem, though, is that Stephenson's trade market may be quite complicated. He's making $9 million this season with a team option for the same amount next year. His relatively high salary means you can't really just dump him for nothing, as they did with Smith who was making the league minimum. Unless they dealt Stephenson to a team able to absorb his cost into their extra cap space, the Clippers are going to have to find ~$9 million worth of salaries to get back.
Given Lance's depleted value, it seems likely that LAC may have to settle for so-so players making more money than they're worth. Stephenson's combination of obvious talent and youth would theoretically give him more value on the market than your average bench warmer, but it's also hard to imagine many teams are eager to acquire him right now. The best course of action for the Clippers is probably just to keep him and see what he can give them in the long-term, as explained here by Lucas Hann.
But if Doc Rivers were to decide that Lance needs to go, which teams out there may be a suitable trade partner?
*Adam West voice* -- "To the Trade Machine!"
Trade No. 1: Stephenson (and a pick) to Chicago for Taj Gibson
This scenario has been making its way around the interwebs for a little while now, but it's definitely not happening. The reason the Bulls would have had any interest in the first place was because of their frontcourt logjam combined with their relatively thin group of guards. With Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis all in the fold, Gibson has long seemed like the odd-man out. However, with Noah out for the season and Mirotic sidelined in the interim thanks to appendicitis, Gibson is quite crucial to Chicago's cause. The Bulls had to use Doug McDermott for long stretches at power forward in Sunday's loss to LAC, which tells you all you need to know about their current frontcourt situation. There's no way they'd make this deal now, so we can get that out of the way early.
Actual trade No. 1: Stephenson (and a pick?) to Phoenix for Markieff Morris
What's in it for the Clippers: This is an excellent buy-low opportunity for the Clippers. Morris has almost single-handedly torpedoed his own trade value with all that's gone on with him since the summer, but he's shown in the past that he can be a very solid contributor. He's never quite developed into the stretch-four that many imagined he would (his three-point shooting has actually regressed over the years), but he's a capable scorer from inside-the-arc. Would the Clippers hesitate to bring on another guy with reported attitude issues, though?
What's in it for the Suns: The Suns just have to cut bait. Morris has found his way back into the rotation in recent weeks but their season went down the toilet long ago. Now that Jeff Hornacek has been fired, it's not impossible to imagine them cleaning out the rest of the clutter fairly soon. Like with Stephenson, it will be fascinating to see what kind of trade market develops for Morris in the coming weeks.
Trade No. 2: Stephenson to Minnesota for Kevin Martin
What's in it for the Clippers: Martin has a long track record as an effective scorer in this league. He has had problems with fragility this season, but when he's right he's a guy that could be a solid fit for a Clipper second unit prone to offensive dry spells. The problem here is that he may be a bit redundant with Jamal Crawford. Can you really thrive with two waifey scorers that don't play a hint of defense on the floor at the same time? Likely not. Any acquisition of Martin (who's about four years younger than Crawford) would likely be contingent upon the Clippers finding another landing spot for Jamal.
What's in it for the Timberwolves: At 32, Martin doesn't factor into the Wolves' long-term plans. They may as well cash-in on him while he still has some value. As is the case with any team likely interested in Stephenson, Minnesota would be acquiring him to see if he can harness his talents with a more defined role. With the lottery in their sights, the Wolves can afford to do a little experimenting in the second half of the season. Getting a guy like Lance without compromising any of their young assets could be worth a try for Minnesota.
Trade No. 3: Stephenson to Portland for Gerald Henderson
What's in it for the Clippers: Henderson was dealt to Portland this summer in the trade that landed Nicolas Batum with the Hornets. Injuries have held him back a bit so far this year, and his role in the Portland rotation has been limited thanks to the emergence of Allen Crabbe. Henderson isn't flashy, but he's a worker bee type that can contribute on both ends of the floor. He's a solid wing defender and is shooting a career-best 35% from deep this season. He doesn't have the same kind of upside that Stephenson does, though, so is this something the Clippers would be very interested in? His contract is up at the end of the season.
What's in it for the Trail Blazers: Portland is in the midst of a rebuild following their offseason roster overhaul. As a result, old friend (and Blazers GM) Neil Olshey decided to stock the roster with a slew of young players that never received full opportunities in their previous stops. It's safe to say Stephenson fits the bill as another of those types of players after what he's gone through over the last two years. With Henderson expiring, the Blazers may as well trade him ahead of the upcoming deadline.
Trade No. 4: Stephenson (and a pick) to Denver for Darrell Arthur, J.J. Hickson
What's in it for the Clippers: Once again, the Clippers find themselves without a true backup power forward once Griffin returns. The Nuggets have a glut of bigs, and it stands to reason they'll want to build around the likes of Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Joffrey Lauvergne and (maybe?) Kenneth Faried. That leaves Arthur and Hickson on the fringes. Arthur is having his healthiest season to date (no jinx!) and has quietly been quite productive. He's averaging about seven points and four rebounds in just under 21 minutes per game while shooting 46% from the floor and a career-high 37.5% from beyond-the-arc. He doesn't take a ton of threes, but he's a nice floor-spacing big that also defends quite well. The Nuggets are a bad defensive team no matter what, but their defensive efficiency plummets from 104.7 with him on the floor to 111.8 when he's on the bench.
Hickson is primarily here to make the money work, but he can also give you some rebounding in a pinch.
What's in it for the Nuggets: The rebuilding Nuggets help clear some playing time for their younger big men by ousting both Arthur and Hickson. In return, they get a young guy that can play several positions as well as a future second-round draft pick. There's certainly a chance Denver could find a stronger package if they were to trade Arthur and/or Hickson, but Lance plus a pick isn't an awful haul, either.
Trade No. 5: Stephenson to Philadelphia for Carl Landry, Kendall Marshall and a pick
What's in it for the Clippers: Carl Landry's career has been derailed by injuries over the last several years, but when healthy this season he's shown that he can still be a solid rotational big. This comparison will do the opposite of excite anyone, but he's a more workable version of Glen Davis. Landry's not particularly big, but he's a hard worker that can step out and consistently knock down jumpers. Let's just say he deserves to be on an NBA roster far more than Jeff Ayres.
Marshall has played for four different teams in his four NBA seasons. An ACL injury ended his season in Milwaukee a year ago prematurely, and he's appeared in just 12 games so far this season with Philly. Whatever role he did have with the Sixers was killed when they traded for Ish Smith in late December. Marshall isn't very athletic and his shot form is nightmare-inducing, but he's been a pretty good three-point shooter when healthy and has excellent court vision. He's basically a throw-in here capable of giving you a few backup point guard minutes if you'd need it. This wouldn't be an exciting haul for LAC, but it potentially does help overall depth. Also, a draft pick!
What's in it for the 76ers: The Sixers, as we know, don't have any real aspirations of winning anything this season. Things appear to be turning after they surprisingly hired Jerry Colangelo to effectively take Sam Hinkie's job, but they don't really have use for either Landry or Marshall in the long term. They may as well flip those players for a guy like Stephenson and see what he has.
The wise move for Rivers and co. is to hang on to Lance and hope he can start to find a rhythm. If he can figure it out and become a consistent positive influence for them come playoff time, then the Clippers will be all the more dangerous.