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Clifford, Hornets Willing to Deal with Stephenson’s Byproducts

Brent Drinkut/The Star

Brent Drinkut/The Star

Lance Stephenson brings baggage. How Charlotte deals with that baggage will go a long way in his long term success with the Hornets.

Head Coach Steve Clifford sounds like a man who can sense he’ll be answering questions about his newest player for a long time.

Clifford spoke with media after Lance Stephenson was officially introduced on Friday and he he was very philosophical when speaking about Lance’s on-court quirks.

“What’s the old saying? Your greatest strength is usually also your greatest weakness. I think that those things are a byproduct of the fact that he badly wants to win.”

AUDIO: Coach Clifford on Lance Stephenson


It’s a refreshingly honest appraisal of Lance and his future with the Hornets. Clifford doesn’t try to boldly state that Stephenson has agreed to toe the line or that he’ll reform fully before the beginning of the season. He also doesn’t pretend like Lance’s actions are simply a put-on for attention, a put-on that can be easily remedied with structure and team chemistry. Instead, Clifford understands that his “ear blowing” and sometimes too-physical defense are a result of his intense desire to win for his team.

Does that make these things right or acceptable? Not necessarily. They can be distractions. They can lead to technicals and free points for the opposition. They are ultimately distractions that at best take away from the team and at worst inspire opposing players to play harder.

But when dealing with players who struggle to channel the competitiveness inside them, what almost never works is to demand that they stop immediately OR ELSE. It denies who they really are, it alienates them and ultimately gets into their head. You’re likely going to get a greater reaction or worse a less competitive, less focused player.

Isn’t that the scarier proposition, a player of Lance’s talent feeling misunderstood and attacked, retreating into bad basketball habits or losing his competitive fire? Personally I’ll take a technical or two if it means I know the guy beside me is fighting tooth and nail to bring home the W.

No what Lance needs, what I think Clifford can give him, is patience, understanding and belief. In Lance’s recent one-on-one with Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer he had these things to say:

After the meeting (that led to the agreement to join Charlotte) I felt very comfortable – that this organization believes in me.

(Jordan) played a big role. He told me what he likes about me, he told me what I need to calm down on. He told me how I can contribute to the team. And he told me he believed in my talent.

I’ve held steadfast in my belief that the deal to bring Lance to Charlotte was more than dollars and cents. Bob Kravtiz’s reporting for the Indy Star that Indiana was willing to offer him a shorter deal only serves to bolster that belief. Lance and a lot of other players who act out on and off the court need to feel believed in. The Hornets organization swooped in and offered him that belief and a second chance. Sometimes that need to be believed in can develop into a crutch, a need to be pampered, babied. If that’s what this turns into then Charlotte will be in trouble. At least they’ll have a third year team option as a life raft.

But I’m willing to be patient and not overreact to his first technical or his first attempt to get into a star’s head. Call me a sucker for competitive gusto and raw basketball talent but I, and Coach Clifford, really want to see where this thing goes.

Hear more about Lance Stephenson and Summer League recaps on Hive Talk Live. Follow Doug on twitter @QCHDoug