Clippers’ Lance Stephenson says he wants to be ‘that guy to get the team riled up’
Maybe Lance Stephenson really won’t have to learn another offense for a third consecutive year. At least not for a little while.
What the Clippers have done so far in their early practices hardly qualifies as playbook drudgery.
“We’re just playing,” Stephenson said this week. “We’re going up and down and playing and letting the game come to us.”
That’s when the swingman tends to be at his best, probing a defense for openings before zipping a pass, pulling up for a jumper or turning the corner to drive to the basket.
Coach Doc Rivers called the dynamic, multi-positional Stephenson “the poster child” for the kind of interchangeable player he wanted as part of his roster overhaul this summer. Stephenson showed his new teammates a glimpse of his potential during training camp at UC Irvine, which ended Tuesday.
“He’s been amazing,” point guard Chris Paul said. “He’s been hooping first and foremost.”
Rivers envisions Stephenson as the lockdown perimeter defender the Clippers have lacked in recent years as well as one of the primary ballhandlers on a small-ball second unit that almost seems to be without defined positions.
“He’s a special player on both ends of the court and we’re going to be leaning on him,” forward-center Josh Smith said.
Stephenson credited his new team for putting him in spots that make him feel comfortable, something that rarely happened during his one disastrous season with the Charlotte Hornets. He couldn’t have looked any different than the player who appeared on the verge of stardom the previous two seasons with the Indiana Pacers.
Smith knows how stifling a bad fit can be; he was waived by the Detroit Pistons in December after the team’s experiment with a massive front line became a colossal failure. He rebounded with a strong showing once he signed with the Houston Rockets.
“It’s all about a player being happy and comfortable in his situation,” Smith said. “Me in Detroit, it’s kind of a similar situation. I think he’s been looking at it as a fresh year.”
Stephenson’s intensity appeared in midseason form during the portion of practice the media was allowed to watch Tuesday as the Clippers’ second unit continually pushed the starters, matching every basket. He compared the scrimmage to an All-Star game because of the level of talent on the court.
As for what he hopes to add to a team that already includes a trio of veteran All-Stars in Paul, Blake Griffin and Paul Pierce, Stephenson said defensive energy and “being that guy to get the team riled up.”
“This team is already exciting,” Stephenson said, “and I think I’m going to add to the excitement and we’re just going to have fun winning.”
Rivers cited Stephenson’s off-the-ball defense and turnovers as potential growth areas while pointing out that the 25-year-old was still young in NBA years.
If Stephenson, who will make $9 million this season after the Clippers acquired him in June as part of a trade for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes, can replicate his onetime borderline All-Star form, he’ll probably stick with the team for at least one more season. The Clippers hold a team option for $9.4 million in 2016-17.
Stephenson will eventually have to learn plays, of course. Just maybe not in the next few days.
Rivers said his team worked so little on set offense during training camp that it might have one halfcourt play ready for its exhibition opener Friday night at Staples Center against the Denver Nuggets.
Not that Stephenson seems to mind.
“When you’ve got a lot of plays and you’re thinking so much, the game becomes harder,” he said. “We’ve got plays, but we’re really just going up and down, playing off instinct.”
The Clippers did not practice Wednesday.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
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