Clippers Coach Doc Rivers outlined his preliminary plan for new acquisition Lance Stephenson on Tuesday afternoon during an interview with Fred Roggin on the Beast 980 AM, saying he envisioned using Stephenson more as a utility player than a starting small forward.
Rivers said Stephenson could play point guard, shooting guard and small forward while filling a variety of needs.
“We needed to get tougher and we needed to get more athleticism and we needed to improve defensively,” Rivers told Roggin, “and Lance has shown he can do that for us. … He’s a tough kid, very competitive kid and that has gotten him in trouble at times, but the one thing he has shown in major playoff games is that he can be a top-tier defender.”
The Clippers acquired Stephenson from the Charlotte Hornets on Monday in exchange for forward-center Spencer Hawes and forward Matt Barnes. The loss of Barnes means that the Clippers will be seeking a replacement at starting small forward.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Rivers said. “Worst case, and it’s not a bad case, I think Lance is still an upgrade at that position. We plan on doing more things this summer. We’re not done, clearly.”
Rivers said the Clippers, who currently have eight players under contract for next season more than two weeks before the start of the free-agency period, needed to add three or four more players and would need to get creative to do it because of salary-cap constraints. He said the Clippers might buy a second-round draft pick from another team and would also consider prospects who went undrafted.
“We have a game plan,” Rivers said. “Now whether the game plan works or not, we will have to find out.”
Stephenson, 24, is coming off a horrid season with the Hornets but is a relatively low-risk proposition for the Clippers because he has only one more season guaranteed on his contract at $9 million.
“If Lance works out, great,” Rivers said of a player who will meet with the Los Angeles media on Thursday afternoon at the Clippers’ training facility. “If he doesn’t it’s a one-year deal. I just like contractually where it went for us.”
Rivers said he had a constructive conversation with Hawes, who didn’t work out as anticipated after signing a four-year, $23-million contract with the Clippers last summer. Rivers said Hawes “didn’t come in in great shape so he kind of fell behind” and struggled adjusting to playing off the bench after being a starter for most of his career.
“Spencer is so used to starting games and playing a lot of minutes and he could never figure it out,” Rivers said of the adjustment. “He never could get in a rhythm for us.”
Rivers intimated that the Clippers were early winners in the trade with the Hornets.
“The team that gets the best player in the trade gets the best trade,” Rivers said, “and in this case I think Lance is the best player in this trade.”