CHARLOTTE – Lance Stephenson doesn’t want to be known as the guy who blew in LeBron James’ ear.
Stephenson said during his introductory news conference Friday in Charlotte he’s “a little upset” that the ear-blowing incident in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Miami is how some people have defined him as a player.
“I feel like it overshadowed my play on the court,” Stephenson said. “I bring more to the table than just blowing in someone’s ear. I’m a great player.”
Hornets general manager Rich Cho agrees, which is why the club signed Stephenson to a three-year, $27 million contract Friday. The deal includes a team option for the third season.
Cho said the 23-year-old Stephenson brings competitiveness, scoring ability, a defensive presence and a wealth of playoff experience – all things the Hornets need to take the next step and become a perennial playoff contender.
“I think he’ll be a great fit,” Cho said.
The Hornets, who ranked near the bottom of the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage last season, expect Stephenson will help them in that area. Stephenson shot 35 percent from beyond the arc last season. He also proved versatile in other ways.
He led the NBA with five triple-doubles and posted career highs in points (13.6), rebounds (6.9) and assists (4.2).
But Stephenson’s intense competitiveness also has a dark side. He was called for 17 technical fouls last season – third-most in the NBA – and was also involved in a practice scuffle with teammate Evan Turner. He has been known to talk trash, occasionally to his and his team’s detriment.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford is well aware of that, but after doing some background checks – even going back to talk to his high school coaches – he felt good about bringing Stephenson into a locker room that boasted great chemistry last season.
“What’s the old saying? ‘Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness,’” Clifford said. “I think those things are a byproduct of the fact that he badly wants to win. To be honest, that is one of the things we all liked about him so much.”
Clifford said Hornets owner Michael Jordan addressed those issues with Stephenson in a meeting Tuesday night in Las Vegas.
“He talked to him about what we can work on – and (Stephenson) knows that,” Clifford said. “Lance knows that sometimes he has crossed the line a little bit. But I think he does it out of competitiveness.”
Stephenson acknowledged he has to mature as a player. But he said after talking to Jordan he knew he wanted to join the Hornets.
“He loves my game and what I bring to the table,” said Stephenson, who turned down a five-year, $45 million deal to stay in Indiana. “He loves that I’m a great passer and I play with my teammates, and he loves the competitive edge that I have.”
As for the ear-blowing incident, Stephenson stopped short of saying he regretted his actions but explained his intentions.
“During the series I was trying to play hard against LeBron and help my team win,” Stephenson said. “I’m very competitive and I know some of the antics were over the border – but I was just trying to do whatever it takes to win.”
Stephenson said that off the court, he’s funny and likes to fool around with teammates and friends. On the court, he’s as intense as they come and said “I have no friends” on the opposing team.
For the Hornets, landing Stephenson is a sign the organization is headed in the right direction.
This marks the second straight year they’ve landed a big-name free agent after agreeing to a three-year, $41 million deal with center Al Jefferson last summer.
“It shows this is a great free agent destination,” Cho said.