Lance Stephenson detailed some of his reasons for leaving a leading contending team to join the Charlotte Hornets in an introductory press conference following his official signing Friday afternoon, and Rich Cho told the media what they think Stephenson will bring to the team.
"It's like a new beginning for me," Stephenson said.
The decision to start anew in a different place and to leave the Pacers, who have been in the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the last two years, was a difficult one, he said. "I grew up there; I learned a lot from Larry and my teammates in front of me.
"It was a fun experience learning what teams like me. I feel like the Hornets had my best interest, and I'm just happy to be here."
The Hornets were eager to add to their playoff roster from last season, boasting a young core and a coach who helped mastermind their turnaround from Eastern Conference jokes to a rising squad, which were the main attractions for Stephenson from the basketball perspective, and an attraction to Rich Cho and the Hornets' front office.
Lance is one of the best young players in the league. He's only 23 years old. There were a number of reasons why we wanted to bring Lance into the fold. We can't be more thrilled to have him here.
[on the addition of Jefferson last year, and Lance this year:] I think it shows that Charlotte and the Charlotte Hornets organization is a free agent destination.
One of the things that really attracted us to Lance is he's a big time competitor. He plays both ends of the floor. He led the league in triple-doubles, he was second in most improved player voting. We love his versatility. Coach Clifford and I both think he's going to be a big part of the team. He's got a very unique skill set. He can handle the ball, he can pass, he can score, he can rebound and he can really guard. The other thing is he's got a ton of playoff experience playing in the Eastern Conference Finals the last two years.
"I think we will be better," Cho said. "Lance has a very versatile skill set that will fit well in Coach Clifford's system. It adds another ballhandler to take some pressure off of Kemba. We can play through him. He can make plays for himself. He can make plays for others."
And speaking of Kemba, as a fellow New York native, Stephenson has played with and against Kemba Walker many times previously, and the two paired together is a duo he expects will electrify the league.
As for Clifford, Stephenson noted his affection for defense and his experience, and that he "definitely pushes his players." He added, "I need that from my coach."
As expected, the conversation turned to his antics, which of course center on his blowing in LeBron's ear (by the way, he said he regrets that it overshadows his performance in that series). "I'm very competitive," he said. "During the series I was just trying to play hard against LeBron, trying to help my teammates win and to try to help my team win. I know some of the antics were overboard. I'm just trying to do whatever it takes to win."
Stephenson loves making his opponents uncomfortable and to frustrate them. He's not trying to make friends with them.
"I don't really have friends on the court. When I'm on the court, I try not to be your friend."
But that doesn't extend to his teammates. When asked what his favorite parts of the game are, he pointed out defense and making assists. "I love getting my teammates involved and making my teammates happy," Stephenson said. "When your teammates are happy, the game becomes easier for you."
For much of the press conference, Lance focused on how his experience and defensive ability will make them a tougher team. He said the main things he's working on currently are consistency and leadership.
The pairing of Stephenson and Charlotte looks to be a good one, based on comments from today, not that a media relations gathering predicts how things will go.
Still, Rich Cho sounded happy to get a young and versatile talent to join his team: "One of the prime goals was to improve our scoring and our defense and our playmaking ability, and we really feel like Lance addresses all those."
And Lance Stephenson sounded happy to join a team with a growing team and a rapidly expanding fanbase: "The fans are very happy and hype. When I walked through the city today, everyone was coming up to me and welcoming me here. I feel comfortable here. When you feel comfortable you tend to play better on the floor."
With the East having as much parity as we've seen in a while, the Hornets and Lance Stephenson could find themselves in a very comfortable spot indeed.