A little more than a year ago, Lance Stephenson and his agent, Alberto Ebanks, flew to Las Vegas to meet with Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and some of the team's brass. On July 15, Stephenson became a Hornet.
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."
After a recent workout—which included an afternoon pickup game with his good friend DeMarcus Cousins, Amir Johnson, Dahntay Jones and Kyle O'Quinn—Stephenson sat down with Bleacher Report to talk about leaving Charlotte, joining the Clippers, the DeAndre Jordan saga, his NBA development and more.
Bleacher Report: Why do you think you got traded?
Lance Stephenson: It just didn't work. I felt like me and Kemba [Walker] do the same type of stuff, and it just didn't click. Kemba is like a smaller me. He dominates the ball and he's a playmaker. And then my jump shot wasn't falling, so it was a tough season. I had toe and groin injuries. I'm telling you, this was worse than my rookie year when I didn't even play. I was really mentally down. I was trying everything to try to figure out what I can do to help this squad.
B/R: Did you ever break down?
LS: I'm from New York: We don't break down. We just get frustrated. Nobody will ever take my confidence away and my swag. I'm always going to have that. It's just I couldn't find a way where I could be on the floor and find my role and dominate that role like I did with the Pacers. I feel like the squad I'm on right now, I can find an easy role. [Defenses are] going to be on Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and I can find easier shots.
B/R: How did you deal with all of the trade rumors last season?
LS: That's tough, man, especially coming from being one of the higher free agents, and then you're already in trade rumors. I'm like, "Man, what am I doing wrong?" It's just a learning experience; it humbled me.
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.
B/R: Was Michael Jordan helpful to you on and off the court?
LS: He was communicating with me, telling me to keep a positive head even though I had a rough year. This was one of the roughest seasons—injuries, not getting my spot back. I felt like I could help this squad, but it just didn't go the way I planned it to go. It's a good learning experience and it really humbled me, because when you have high expectations, you feel like you're that guy. It made me feel like, "Hey, you've got to keep working. Never stop grinding. Don't take this stuff for granted because playing basketball is a blessing and you're getting paid for it."
B/R: Does it hurt at all that MJ traded you after only one season?
LS: Yeah, definitely it hurt me. I felt like I could've done more for the organization, I felt like we had pieces, and we just couldn't get over that hump. There were a lot of injuries, a lot of things that just held us back from having a successful season.
B/R: How did you first hear about the trade?
LS: Just like this, [I was] working out [at Impact]. And everybody in the gym was like, "Ooooh." They're like, "You're going to the Clippers." I was like, "What? Nah, let me check my phone." It was a surprise. I thought I was going to still be a Hornet. I was getting ready for the Hornets this year and out of nowhere I just heard I got traded. I'm very happy and blessed, and I think it's going to be a great year. Plus I'm in the West and they like to go up and down, and that's my type of game—grab the rebound and go and push it and find the open man. Just have fun.
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.
B/R: What is your mentality like, going from a non-playoff team to one that is in the championship conversation?
LS: It's a big jump, because I was just sitting there watching the playoffs, like, "Man," because every year I made the playoffs. I was like, "What am I going to do?" So I literally just sat and played video games for about a month and then started working out. I played NBA 2K and Mortal Kombat, but I was real bored. I'm just happy that I'm on a great team that's ready to win. I'm telling you, it's like a blessing to be on this type of team that I'm on right now. You can't take that for granted, because you don't have years like this, you don't have a year when you have a group of guys that can actually win it.
B/R: This is your first time playing in a big market. How have you experienced that so far?
LS: Already it's been different. As soon as I got to the airport [in Los Angeles] to come back here [to Vegas]—this was after my Clippers press conference—I had cameras following me. I was like, "Ooooh," like I'm Justin Bieber or something. I was like, "What are you following me for?" I was going on the plane and saw like 20 cameras. They're like, "Hey, how do you like the team?" It was crazy.
B/R: Anything off the court you want to try Hollywood-esque?
LS: I'm going to be in a movie one day. Any role. I like action and comedy movies.
B/R: What was it like following the DeAndre Jordan saga?
LS: When I heard he was leaving, I was about to cry. I'm like, "Come on, man." I get on a great team and then we lose one of the best big men in the league. So when he came back, I texted him, like, "We need you. We've got to get you back."
B/R: Did you fly to his house in Houston like a lot of his teammates the day he re-signed?
LS: No, I was here. But I was talking to him that day. I was like, "Man, come back, we need you. We've got the pieces. We've got guys that's ready to win now and then we've got Doc Rivers. He's a champion." I told him, "Switch it up. This year is going to be special."
B/R: How did life change for you when you signed your big deal last summer?
LS: It can mess with you mentally. But I'm good. When you get a big check, you've just got to stay humble, you've got to stay on that grind. Once you feel like you've got that money, some people tend to relax. I'm not that type of guy. I like money, but I want status.
B/R: You see how crazy the money was for free agents this summer...
LS: I don't want to look at the numbers. You can't get into that. You could say, "He's not worth that," but we'll know who's worth that this season. Everybody wants to make as much money as possible. Take care of your family. It's not about the money; it's about status. I want to be ranked amongst all the players. I don't want to just have all this money. I want to be that guy.
B/R: What is so exciting to you about taking on the top defensive assignment?
LS: I'm big, but I'm not that big. People walk up to me in the club, like, "You were guarding LeBron? You don't look that big." But on the court, it's different. When Coach says, "Stop him," I try my best to stop him. I had Roy [Hibbert] and now DJ behind me, so if you take me [off the dribble], you've got those guys to deal with. So I'm going to play all up on [my opponent]. That's why I feel like it was easier for me to do it because I knew there was a guy behind me.
B/R: You still have the New York high school scoring record. Any record that you want to break in the NBA one day?
LS: I want to be the best rebounding guard. I don't think anybody really puts that in their mind. I had five triple-doubles [my last season in Indiana]. I could've had 10 of them. There were some games where we were up 20 and I finished the game with 18, 10 and nine.
B/R: What is the future expectation for yourself?
LS: I want to win a ring. I want to know what it's like to get deep in the playoffs all the way to the chip. I got to the conference finals [in 2013 and '14], but being in that chip, that's the big thing.