It was announced this week that the Memphis Grizzlies declined Lance Stephenson's $9.4mm option and are therefore allowing him to test the waters of free agency. This move could be an indicator that Memphis wants to target a big free agent and could not afford to keep Lance to do so. If the right chips don't fall, though, Memphis may regret letting Lance go. Besides the fact that he proved his worth this past season when he was traded to Memphis, Lance might be the best value out there for the Grizzlies at the wing position right now.
When he joined the Grizzlies, Lance revitalized his NBA career. Previously, Stephenson had an extremely successful four years with the Indiana Pacers before signing with the Charlotte Hornets. What followed was a steep decline in Stephenson's season stats. With the Hornets two seasons ago, he averaged 8.2 PPG while shooting only 37.6% from the floor.
He was then traded to the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2015-16 season. After having an unsuccessful stint with them, he was then traded to the Memphis Grizzlies following the All-Star break. With the avalanche of injuries that the Grizzlies experienced in the second half of the season, Lance was available to give the Grizzlies a boost on both ends of the court.
With the Grizz, Lance had an offensive rating of 105 per 100 possessions, and he shot 47.4% from the field. One of Stephenson's greatest strengths is that he brings an aggressive mentality on offense and is not afraid of contact when driving to the rim. He averaged 3.1 free throw attempts per game, which is a career high, at 81.5%. Overall, Stephenson's statistics improved significantly after joining the Grizzlies. With the Clippers previously, he had been averaging only 4.7 PPG in 15.8 minutes of play. While he struggled with his shot beyond the arc when he first joined the Grizzlies, his percentage rose to 35.5% by the end of the season.
Stephenson also brought a great energy to this Grizzlies team and worked well alongside Tony Allen. Some players just need a new scenery to revitalize their career, and that seemed to be the case for Lance. He never fit into the Clippers' system, but he plugged in perfectly to the Grizzlies' grit and grind philosophy. Many players, Zach Randolph being the best example, have come to Memphis and have experienced a career rebirth.
While Stephenson may be turnover prone at times (he averages 1.8 of them per game), his effort and productivity every night on both ends of the court were invaluable to the injury-ridden Grizzlies this past year. With so many players being out for Memphis, Lance really had a chance to shine and had a longer leash than he would've if the Grizzlies had been fully healthy. In addition, with the Grizzlies being so shorthanded at the point guard position, players like Stephenson had to run the majority of the offense. Lance averaged 2.8 assists per game with the Grizzlies.
With Marc Gasol returning next season and Mike Conley hopefully re-signing with Memphis, the Grizzlies need to start considering what other pieces they must acquire and keep around their two stars in order to make another championship run this coming season. At age 25, Lance offers some youth to this older Grizzlies team. In addition, his consistent effort and production every night make a strong case for him to remain a Grizzly next season. Out of the trades the Grizzlies made this past year, Lance seemed to be the most lasting and impressive piece. During an otherwise disappointing season, he was one of the few bright spots for Memphis. In Stephenson the Grizzlies have found a role player who has embraced the grit and grind culture that the Grizzlies embody, and Lance seemed to finally have found a basketball home in Memphis.
But now Memphis has made its move by allowing Lance to enter free agency. The Grizzlies might be looking to acquire a player like Chandler Parsons. Or, they might look to sign someone like Kent Bazemore. However, Lance looks to be one of the cheaper options available at the wing position for the Grizzlies, and he's already proven that he works well in Memphis' system. So rather than take a more expensive chance on another wing, why not go ahead and sign the player who has already proven his worth?
Lance Stephenson deserves a spot on the roster this season. He came into the middle of last season and made an impact, and one can only imagine how much a full training camp and season would help him and the Grizzlies. Lance will surely have some suitors in free agency, but the Grizzlies should consider bringing back the wing player this season to see what else "Born Ready" is capable of.