Stephen­son seeks im­age up­grade with Clip­pers

He says his rep­u­ta­tion as a bad team­mate is un­de­served and it’s ‘pas­sion’ that he will bring to the team. Rivers says risk is worth it.

Los Angeles Times - - BASEBALL - By Ben Bolch ben.bolch@latimes.com Twit­ter: @latb­bolch

Lance Stephen­son once fa­mously blew in LeBron James’ ear and prompted whis­pers at his first two NBA stops about be­ing a bad team­mate. Now he’s ready for word of mouth to do some­thing else with his spotty rep­u­ta­tion.

“I want to take that ti­tle off my name be­cause that’s not me,” Stephen­son said at his in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence at the Clip­pers’ prac­tice fa­cil­ity Thurs­day, three days af­ter the team ac­quired him in a trade with the Char­lotte Hor­nets. “I’m a good locker room guy.”

Just ask his for­mer team­mates, Stephen­son said. Or his coaches.

The Clip­pers did a lot of check­ing with var­i­ous sources be­fore trad­ing Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes for Stephen­son, a 6-foot-5 shoot­ing guard whom they also en­vi­sion us­ing at point guard and small for­ward. Stephen­son fig­ures to be pri­mar­ily a re­serve un­less the Clip­pers can­not find a start­ing-cal­iber small for­ward in the com­ing months.

The pas­sion he likes to play with, Stephen­son said, is of­ten mis­taken for some­thing less con­struc­tive.

“When I’m on the court, I’ve got that type of energy where it looks like I’m yelling at some­body,” Stephen­son said, “but I feel like when I talk to my team­mates, it amps them and makes them work harder.”

Clip­pers Coach Doc Rivers said the risk in ac­quir­ing Stephen­son was worth it be­cause his pro­duc­tion from his four sea­sons with the In­di­ana Pac­ers out­weighed his one hor­rid sea­son with the Hor­nets.

“It’s a risk if you go by one year,” Rivers said, “but I don’t know if it’s a risk if you go by body of work over his ca­reer.”

Stephen­son, 24, av­er­aged 8.2 points, 4.5 re­bounds and 3.9 as­sists per game while shoot­ing 17.1% from three-point range last sea­son with the Hor­nets, far off his 13.8 points, 7.2 re­bounds, 4.6 as­sists and 35.2% shoot­ing on three-point­ers the pre­vi­ous sea­son with the Pac­ers.

Stephen­son didn’t say much about his time in Char­lotte other than call­ing it “a strug­gle for me,” pre­fer­ring to fo­cus on his ex­cite­ment in com­ing to Los An­ge­les.

“I was on the court and I was work­ing out and when I got the call” about the trade, said Stephen­son, who has one more sea­son guar­an­teed on his con­tract at $9 mil­lion in ad­di­tion to a team op­tion for $9.4 mil­lion for the 2016-17 sea­son. “I was like, ‘What? Are you se­ri­ous? Like, I’m on the Clip­pers?’ I was very happy.”

Stephen­son, who de­vel­oped his edge as a child on the black­tops of his na­tive Brook­lyn, N.Y., said he would bring de­fen­sive tenac­ity in ad­di­tion to a re­solve the Clip­pers lacked.

“I feel like last year they weren’t as tough; they needed that guy to get them an­gry and get ev­ery­body mad and get other peo­ple scared,” he said. “I feel like I could add on to that.”

Stephen­son also aug­ments a ros­ter al­ready heavy on shoot­ing guards with starter J.J. Redick and su­per sub Ja­mal Craw­ford. Rivers said he fore­saw Stephen­son be­ing able to co­ex­ist with Craw­ford, another player who usu­ally likes to play with the ball in his hands.

Of course, the Clip­pers’ ros­ter re­mains in flux less than two weeks be­fore the start of the free-agency pe­riod. Rivers said his team, which has eight play­ers un­der con­tract for next sea­son, “has a lot of work to do” and would em­pha­size ac­quir­ing tal­ent over fill­ing po­si­tions.

The Clip­pers also could buy their way into the draft next week, most likely in the sec­ond round if they de­cided to do so.

“It’s not any­thing we’re push­ing hard for,” Rivers said of ob­tain­ing a draft pick, “but if we can get a good spot, we’d like to get higher in the draft than lower.”

Freshly re­moved from easily the worst sea­son of his ca­reer, Stephen­son hopes he’s found just the right place.

Anne Cu­sack Los An­ge­les Times

CLIP­PERS Coach Doc Rivers, left, and Lance Stephen­son ap­pear at in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence.

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