He barely plays. He’s benched for an entire game. He’s in the starting lineup.
It’s hard to know what to expect from Clippers forward Lance Stephenson these days. His role continued to vacillate Friday when he started against the Portland Trail Blazers, one day after not playing at all against the Golden State Warriors.
There was no need for a deep data dig to find the last Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision of Stephenson’s career before Thursday. Steve Clifford held Stephenson out of two games late last season with the Charlotte Hornets, though one could have been more accurately described as Did Not Play — Not Interested after Stephenson declined his coach’s offer to enter a lopsided game in the final minutes.
Stephenson’s sitting out against the Warriors came only five days after he logged less than two minutes against the Detroit Pistons. It was pretty stunning stuff for someone considered one of the NBA’s top young players as recently as a year ago, but Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he did not speak with Stephenson about the benching.
“We don’t have to talk to guys every game,” Rivers said.
But didn’t a DNP seem a little surprising after the Clippers traded for Stephenson in hopes he would become a playmaker and lockdown perimeter defender?
“Yeah, it happens, I swear,” Rivers said.
Stephenson started Friday in place of Paul Pierce, who was resting on the second night of a back-to-back situation. He had a nice baseline drive for a layup in the first quarter but missed two free throws and was on the receiving end of an animated discussion with Rivers during a timeout after having a shot blocked on another drive toward the basket.
Stephenson appeared to take his benching against the Warriors well, standing and holding his arm aloft to celebrate a Josh Smith three-pointer in the fourth quarter.
Stephenson had not exactly made the most of the minutes he received in his first 10 games with the Clippers, averaging 5.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists on 37.3% shooting. Those numbers were all worse than the ones he had posted with the Hornets, albeit in a larger role for most of the season.
The Clippers’ commitment to Stephenson is for only one season and $9 million because they hold a $9.4-million team option for the 2016-17 season.
Taking a breather
Rivers was tempted to list another reason besides rest for Pierce sitting out.
“Can you put age down as an injury?” Rivers quipped.
Resting the 38-year-old forward on the second night of a back-to-back situation was something Rivers had said he would do based on feel. Pierce had played in the Clippers’ first two sets of games on consecutive days but appeared to tire late Thursday against the Warriors, missing a layup in the final minute.
“I think it’s good for me,” Pierce said of the rest, noting the Clippers are also in the midst of a stretch of three games in four days, including an afternoon start Sunday against the Toronto Raptors. “I was feeling a little tired right now.”