Struggling Stephenson doesn't regret signing with Hornets

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Lance Stephenson doesn't regret his decision to sign with the Charlotte Hornets as a free agent, even though this season has been a huge struggle for the five-year NBA veteran.

The Hornets gave Stephenson a three-year, $27 million deal this past offseason expecting him to bring a boost with his playoff experience.

But he hasn't come close to living up to expectations.

Stephenson is shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and has made only 16 percent of his 3-point attempts. Things have gone so downhill that he didn't even play in Charlotte's biggest game so far this season - a 116-104 loss Monday night to the Boston Celtics - despite two starters being out with injuries.

Stephenson sat and watched while Jeffery Taylor and rookie P.J. Hairston played ahead of him.

''It's a coach's decision and my job is to keep a positive attitude,'' Stephenson told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The loss dropped the Hornets 1 1/2 games behind the Celtics in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday night.

Stephenson lost his starting job early in the season and had been playing with the second rotation until this week.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said sitting Stephenson was the result of a combination of things, including the need to have a stronger defender on the floor with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out with an ankle injury. Clifford said Taylor is ''by a substantial margin a better defender'' than any other wing player on the roster, including Stephenson.

Clifford said Stephenson is still adapting to the new system, and as a coach he hasn't found the right people to use with Stephenson on the floor.

''I think the biggest thing for him is he's 23 and this is the first time he's gone somewhere different,'' Clifford said. ''He's played for the same team and same coach for four years with the same basic offensive and defensive structure.''

Stephenson said he still believes he can turn things around in Charlotte, but said he just needs ''that freedom to let me play through mistakes.''

Stephenson's numbers have fallen off in almost every category.

He's averaging 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game this season, down from 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists last season for the Indiana Pacers.

Still, he doesn't regret signing with Charlotte.

''Not at all,'' Stephenson said. ''I love this system. I love my coaches. I love my teammates. Some people come into systems and fit right in. Some people it takes time. I feel like with me I'm going to take time.''

Clifford refuted the idea that signing Stephenson was a mistake.

He said Stephenson still has a chance to make an impact with the Hornets in the future, although he indicated he'll stick with the same rotation he used against the Celtics moving forward.

The second-year coach compared Stephenson with 12-year veteran Mo Williams, who was acquired in a midseason trade with Minnesota. For Williams, it was his seventh NBA team; this is Stephenson's second.

''In three days Mo knew everything we're doing,'' Clifford said. ''That is what happens. For Lance it has taken a while to get comfortable.''

Stephenson is shooting more jump shots and driving less than he did in Indiana, which Clifford said has affected his shooting percentage.

''We have to find a group where there is more space on the floor for him to use his pick and roll game,'' Clifford said. ''When you look at it by the numbers, the one thing in Indiana he was able to get to the basket. He's come and told me there is no room. A lot of this is my responsibility, who he is on the floor with and how he's utilized.''

Stephenson said he wasn't comfortable at the beginning of the year, which led to bad shot selection. But he said he began to find his way after the All-Star break.

''I knew what I was doing and knew how to play (in the system) and I felt like I was shooting better,'' Stephenson said. ''I felt like I was going to help our team get over that next hump.''

Instead, the guy who was brought in to help the Hornets win big games is on the bench.

Stephenson offered no explanation as to why he's not playing.

''It's out of my hands,'' Stephenson said, holding up his palms. ''I just have to stay ready.''

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