Stephenson: Shows Maturation as A Pro Despite Trade Rumors

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Hornets guard Lance Stephenson has heard all the trade rumors — including one that recently fell through that would have sent him to his hometown of Brooklyn.

But he says he’s more concerned about working his way back from an injury than on whether he has a long-term future here.

“You can’t help but hear stuff,” said Stephenson, 24, who signed a three-year, $27- million deal with Charlotte in the offseason after three years with the Indiana Pacers.

“I just want to stay focused and stay positive and try to help this team. I’m here, and that’s all that matters right now.”

Stephenson played almost 29 minutes in the Hornets’ 76-71 victory over the Knicks Saturday night at Time Warner Cable Arena. It’s the most playing time he’s seen since his return from a pelvis injury he suffered Dec. 17 against Phoenix that sidelined him for 14 games.

He had six points, four assists and two key fourth-quarter steals.

“It felt good,” Stephenson said. “It’s been hard to try to find a rhythm and work my way back into things. Even when the shots aren’t falling [he was 3-for-10], you can find a way to help your team.”

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Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Stephenson was “instrumental in triggering our offense. He got a couple of key steals and he put pressure on their defense by driving hard to the basket. It looked like he was moving around a lot better.”

Clifford added, “We did pretty well when we ran our offense through him on some pick-and-rolls.”

Stephenson was on the court during the critical part of the fourth quarter as part of what Clifford referred to in his postgame news conference as the “finishing team.”

But he hasn’t started a game since returning to the active roster — the benchmark for a lot of athletes for measuring their worth to a team.

“Do I like not starting? Well, really, no,” Stephenson said with a slight smile. “I think this is a playoff team and I want to be a key part of it. I’m just trying to find the best way that I can contribute.”

Even before the injury, that appeared to be a struggle at times for Stephenson, who starred at the University of Cincinnati and Coney Island’s Lincoln High.

He appeared to be on the verge of NBA stardom after averaging 13.8 points per game for the Pacers in 2013-14. But his scoring average and shooting percentages (only 15 percent from three-point range) were down from last season even before his three-week hiatus because of the injury.

“It’s been tough,” Stephenson said. “To go from a system that you know and you’re comfortable with and then try to change your whole game . . . I’m still trying to find my place.”

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