A few hours after Lance Stephenson found out he made the New Orleans Pelicans’ final roster spot on Monday morning, he revealed his plans for the season that begins on Wednesday night against Denver.
He’s going to see to it that he becomes an impactful player and not a troubled one. He has grown tired of the reputation as a player blessed with star-caliber talent but overshadowed by an immature attitude.
Stephenson says he’s no longer that guy who entered the league in 2010-11 with the Indiana Pacers trying to reclaim his, ‘Born Ready,’ nickname given to him when he was a 16-year-old New York prep star.
”Coming into my rookie year, you think you are the guy because you grew up and you was that guy since you were young,” Stephenson said. ”But coming into the NBA everybody is similar to you.
”So of course, I had a big head when I came in the NBA. But now I’m older and l’ve learned the game a little bit more and I know how to control that. I know how to show that I’m working hard than just coming in and thinking that I’m that guy.”
Stephenson also has made another significant change, acknowledging that before he signed with the Pelicans he didn’t really communicate much with a number of his teammates on his previous teams that includes the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers and Charlotte Hornets
But since training camp began in late September, Stephenson said he’s made a concerted effort to bond with Anthony Davis and the rest of his Pelicans’ teammates.
”Teams that I’ve been on, I really didn’t (talk) to my teammates, I talked to them a little bit but,” Stephenson said. ”But this time, I was really, ‘Hi are you doing to today, what you do yesterday’ and stuff like that. It’s like being a rookie again, everybody got this image of me that’s a straight lie.
”My goal is to prove everybody wrong this year – work hard and show a different side of me. Everybody got this expectation of me, I just want to show them a different side of me.”
Besides his good behavior, Stephenson will open the regular season with the Pelicans mostly because of his versatility. Stephenson was able to beat veteran forward Alonzo Gee for the final spot because the Pelicans were in a need of playmaker with Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans both out for the start of the regular season.
Stephenson averaged 24 minutes in six preseason games, averaging 6.8 points and 3.7 assists. Gee played in five games but averaged only 9.2 minutes and 1.4 points.
Still, Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said it was a tough decision that was made collaboratively between the front office and the coaching staff. It has been a rare occurrence under Pelicans owner Tom Benson watch for a player to be released with guaranteed money owed to him. New Orleans is on the hook to pay Gee’s full $1.2 million salary even though he was released.
”We were doing what’s best for the team,” Demps said. ”It was more on the lines of team need than one guy beating out the other guy. We felt with Lance’s ability, especially with us being without Tyreke and Jrue to start the season, we had more of a need for a playmaker.”
Stephenson appeared to be thankful about earning another chance. After all, the Pelicans needed to put him through a workout in September before they were willing to extend him a contract. Also, few players have experienced such a swift career nosedive as Stephenson’s. Two seasons ago, Stephenson finished second in the voting for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award after helping the Pacers win 56 games before losing to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
”I love the game, I just want to play ball,” Stephenson said. ”I can show that what I was doing for the Pacers, I can still do it. I just got to have an opportunity to be put in a position where I can do that.”
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said all he can do is judge what Stephenson has done since he joined the Pelicans.
”I haven’t had any problems at all, coaching him,” Gentry said. ”I haven’t had any problems at all when I correct him. It helps that he’s a ballhandler and he does have the ability to maybe at three different positions. He’s a young guy (26 years old), he’s done some good things in this league. We just felt like he could do some things that we needed that we didn’t have available right now.”