Lost among all the hullabaloo of DeAndre Does Dallas and the ensuing wave of free agents signing en masse, the player who very well might be the Clippers' best acquisition of the offseason is going under the radar. Little more than a year ago, Lance Stephenson was widely heralded as a budding star, a borderline All-Star candidate (albeit in the Eastern Conference) in 2014.
But one disastrous season in Charlotte later, Lance's stock has never been lower, and many doubt his ability to be a contributor to a contending team, despite his run of success for an Indiana Pacers squad that advanced to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals. Stephenson, well-known for his on-court antics, is now commonly thought of as a locker room cancer, a mercurial player capable of single-handedly tearing apart a franchise.
The man in question would strongly dispute that characterization. In an interview with Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling, Lance details his journey from trough to crest to trough again, and looks forward to what's in store for him this upcoming season. The entire interview is fantastic and should be a must-read for Clippers fans, but we'll excerpt a few passages:
Lance is trying to improve his shooting to better fit in with the Clippers' offense:
This summer, Stephenson, 24, was back in Vegas, representing a new team, the Clippers, and training five days a week at the Impact Basketball gym. His main goal over the past two months has been to become more of an actual shooting guard, to prepare for his bigger off-the-ball role in Los Angeles.
"He's got to shoot better, so it's focusing on making open shots in catch-and-shoots, coming off curl screens and one-to-two-dribble moves," said Andrew Moore, Impact's director of professional player development. "In that [Clippers] offense, there will be a lot of open shots on drives, kick-outs and swings. He's got a rare ability to be able to generate power without jumping; he can even shoot jump shots from half court and make it look effortless. The repetition now in training is just about getting his confidence back."
B/R: What was portrayed in the media that you know is not true?
LS: For me, it's attitude or locker room issues. You can ask any of the guys that I played with. When I'm on the floor, I want to win. They know how I am. If I yell at them, it's just because I want to win. They're not looking at me like, "Lance is an assh--e." Some people are intimidated to come up to me because of the way I play.
And most importantly to Clippers fans, he's ready to contribute in whatever way the team requires of him:
B/R: What do you envision your Clippers role to be?
LS: Whatever Coach decides to do. I want to come in and be that guy to get the energy going and pick up the defense and just have fun out there. It's showtime. We have like 10 good players with Josh Smith now. We've got a lot of pieces where it can be very interesting and we can have a lot of fun on the floor. I feel like this year is going to be fun because I have guys behind me and All-Stars, and they want to win now. And I want to win now.
B/R: How do you feel about starting or coming off the bench?
LS: It doesn't matter, because it's all about winning—because on the Warriors, nobody cared about who was starting. It wasn't a one-man show; it was teamwork. Everybody was on the same page. It's not about who starts; it's about who finishes. If you finish a game and Coach trusts you on the floor, that's all that matters. I just want to win, so whatever it takes to win.
If Lance can bounce back from last year's nadir, he has the talent to become a vital piece for the team — a crafty slasher, willing passer, and eager defender, all areas he can excel in on this team. He's certainly never played on a team this good offensively (perhaps this good overall), and there's a good chance he can find his way again with the help of coaching and veteran tutelage from the likes of Chris Paul and Paul Pierce.
The full interview has much more, including Lance's relationship with both Jordans (Michael and DeAndre), his struggles in Charlotte, and his goals as a player — so be sure to check it out!
UPDATE: Lance has also just released a piece of his own in the Player's Tribune. He echoes some of the same points as he did in the Bleacher Report interview.
My goal in L.A. is just to win. I’m not worrying about how much I score. When you worry about stats, you lose focus. The main objective is to win. In order to help this team get to the next level, I’m focusing on being a defensive stopper, a knockdown shooter and playing that high-energy, hardcore basketball I’ve always been known for.
In my conversations with Doc, he expects a lot out of me, but he also just wants me to be myself. The longer you stay in this game, the more you learn just how important preparation is. It’s the one thing you can always control.
I’m here to help them take that next step to the Western Conference finals and beyond. I have something to prove. Last year was a very tough but necessary learning experience. Losing as a team and having individual struggles really humbled me. It made me realize that adjustments to new teams are tough sometimes. Every organization has a structure and a certain way of playing to win.
In L.A., I’m very confident that I’ll be able to fit into a role that can immediately benefit this team. The team has high expectations, so I have to come in prepared.