Lance Stephenson seeks redemption with Clippers: 'I have to prove myself again'
LOS ANGELES – Lance Stephenson is standing outside the weight room on a sunny training camp day, when he starts pointing to his surroundings. First, Chris Paul. Then behind him, where Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Pablo Prigioni and Josh Smith are cramped near dumbbells. Down the hall are Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers.
So Stephenson finishes and gets to dialogue.
"We have a lot more talent than I ever had in Indy," Stephenson told Yahoo Sports.
Simple and direct. His talent follows him here, too, but the Hollywood lights shouldn't glare upon Stephenson the way his game was dissected as a failed signing in Charlotte. He is a rotation player now and the residue of his turbulent season precedes him. If there is a situation made to recapture the peak of Stephenson's game – a pace changer, a contributor to an NBA title contender – this one is it. One of the NBA's best starting lineups, a restructured bench and the coach Stephenson respects to be conducive to his skills.
People close to Stephenson say: What an opportunity for Born Ready. Around the league, how many more of these chances will contending teams give him? Stephenson freshened his urgency this offseason with daily training in the same Las Vegas gym where he trained in his draft year of 2010. Now, Stephenson, 25, has a superstar cast to play behind, a player's coach on his side and a pivotal season in mind.
"You never know if it could be the last opportunity, especially with a new situation and a team so good to get close to the championship," Stephenson told Yahoo. "We have the team to win it. I'm a young guy and I think I've got a lot of opportunities left, but you never know. I'm willing to do whatever it takes. Everybody is close on the team, and Doc is different than my other coaches, in a good way.
"I have to prove myself in this league again, especially after the season I had last year. It was tough on me. I have to refocus and show what I learned by helping my teammates on the court.
"This is the year for everybody."
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With a reputation to mend and a repertoire to sharpen, Stephenson takes a seat on a training table. Around him, accomplished veterans inhabit this franchise, players who have made deep postseason runs, maximum contract money and positive stamps on the league. In Stephenson, Rivers is presented with his most significant challenge in integrating the guard, balancing his touches and streaky shooting and eliminating stagnation of the ball in an offense directed by Paul and electrified off the bench by Jamal Crawford. Months into his Hornets career, the franchise researched interest of teams around the league and found four teams serious on the prospect of acquiring Stephenson. Once he discovered in December that Charlotte had gauged his value on the market, Stephenson privately targeted the potential of playing for his hometown Brooklyn Nets, and an agreement nearly came to fruition.
Stephenson admits his ties to the Pacers' front office diminished a year ago, but when struggles arose in Charlotte, several players reached out: Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West. "Those core guys I've talked to since leaving," Stephenson said. "That's it."
Rivers traded for Stephenson in the offseason, rejecting the move as a risk-reward proposition. In truth, these Clippers can execute words into action and compete for a championship even if Stephenson is unable to recalibrate his game. More than anyone here, Stephenson needs this to be a successful fit. He has a perception to repair, his fate in the Clippers' hands next season in the form of a team option. For his part, Stephenson says he has comfort controlling the ball on the fast-break alongside Paul or Crawford, creating in freedom and being an initiator.
"We have Chris to run the offense, but we want Lance to push the basketball and throw the outlet to him and go," Rivers said.
His peers had chosen positional partners for post-practice shooting on a Tuesday, and all Stephenson needed were two assistant coaches and a court to himself for set shots, jumpers off invisible screens and 3-pointers. Just him, the basket, a rebounder and passer. "Me and the ball," he said. "I just work."
Just Stephenson and the ball now, the arc of his career resting upon a prosperous role in L.A. This is not every Clipper's fateful moment – it is Lance Stephenson's. The ball is in his court now.
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