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In the here and now, Michael Jordan’s NBA status could come down to the teachings and experiences of a pair of new jacks born and raised on the blacktops of New York City.
All that is to say that outside of Al Jefferson, the NYC tandem of Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker now easily rate as the most potent weapons His Airness can boast in his desperate attempt to elevate his Charlotte Hornets to heights the franchise has never seen before.
Jordan and the Hornets will be seeking to become the first Eastern Conference squad he’s affiliated himself with to earn back-to-back playoff berths since the times when he ruled over the league as a whole from his throne in Chicago. And the probability of it all could come down to a pair of still-not-fully established, somewhat still impressionables from the land of one of his grandest rivals.
Charlotte invested heavily to bring the Brooklyn-born Stephenson into the mix this summer. To be precise, the Hornets doled out some $27 million over the next three seasons for the dynamic but enigmatic 24-year-old swingman who led the league in both triple-doubles and personal meltdowns last season, leaving senior team execs still largely incapable of telling you just what sort of stabilizer it is even they think they’ve so handsomely paid to acquire.
“Coach (Steve) Clifford wants me to come off screens, he wants me to be more of a scorer,” said Stephenson. “A little bit of the same stuff I was doing with the Pacers, but more.”
But is there ever really a sure thing where Lance Stephenson is concerned? It’s both the cause for why he’s no longer in Indiana and the reason for why the Hornets were so eager to bring him into their midst. And part of their security in feeling safe enough to do so was knowing that his NYC boyhood pal from the Bronx Walker would be waiting for him.
“I know Lance really well,” said Walker. “He’s a New York City guard. He’s super tough, he’ll never back down from anything, and for his height he handles the ball really well. He does the pick and roll really well. He passes the ball. He’s a great overall player. He’ll help me in a lot of aspects and he’ll be a really good fit for us.”
And, in the bigger scheme of things, the Hornets feel that too—if for no other reason they’re now so invested they have to. Charlotte finished 24th in offensive efficiency last season and were just 25th in made 3-pointers per game. Even though he’s never been noted as a shooter, the Hornets are hoping he can be the one to jumpstart and unlock their offense.
“I feel like I came to the Hornets at the right time,” said Stephenson. “We changed the name and we changed the swagger. Everybody is happy about the new pieces that we got in place. Just the atmosphere here, you walk around and everybody is like, ‘Hey Lance, we can’t wait for the season to start.’ I want me game to go to the superstar level. I just want to take the leadership role. I do whatever it takes to win.”
And now, playing alongside Kemba Walker, with Michael Jordan looking on, he may have his best chance to do so.
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