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