Doc Rivers didn’t trade for Lance Stephenson to be a starter for the Los Angeles Clippers. He envisions Stephenson as a utility player off the bench and will look elsewhere to add a starting small forward this offseason.
“I like that [Stephenson] can play multiple positions -- really 2, 3 and 1 -- because he’s a terrific passer,” Rivers told The Beast 980. “I don’t know if I made the trade for him to be a starter, per se, I look at him really more to be a utility player that can come in and play literally three different positions for us. When you look at us, we needed toughness and more athleticism and we get that.”
The Clippers traded Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes on Monday to the Charlotte Hornets for Stephenson, who struggled last season but led the league in triple-doubles in 2013-14 on an Indiana Pacers team that won 56 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
“I like what he can bring for us on the defensive end first,” Rivers said. “I like his body type. I think he’s a tough kid and a very competitive kid. And that has gotten him in trouble at times, but the one thing he has shown in major playoff games is that he can be a top-tier defender, so that’s where we start with him is on the defensive end.”
But if Stephenson isn’t going to be a starter, who’s going to be the team’s starting small forward for 2015-16?
“We find him, we work, we still have work to do,” Rivers said. “In the worst case and it’s not a bad case [Lance starts], and I still think that Lance is an upgrade at that position even if we wanted to start him. But I’m planning on doing more things this summer without saying much. We’re not done, clearly.”
"I still think that Lance is an upgrade at that position even if we wanted to start him. But I'm planning on doing more things this summer without saying much. We're not done, clearly." Doc Rivers
One of the options the Clippers are exploring, according to sources, is Paul Pierce, who could sign a mini-midlevel exception of $3.37 million for up to three years if he declines his $5.5 million player option with Washington. Players don’t normally turn down money but it’s essentially a $1 million difference this season for Pierce, 37, to return home and be reunited with Rivers, who was his coach in Boston for nine seasons, including the 2007-08 championship.
The Clippers are also exploring trade options for Jamal Crawford, according to sources, and one possibility is trading Crawford and C.J. Wilcox, the team’s 2014 first round pick, to the Denver Nuggets for Wilson Chandler. The Clippers inquired about Chandler last season but nothing materialized.
“We’re going to be very creative,” Rivers said. “We have a pretty good plan in place. It started (Monday) and we feel comfortable with where we’re at.”
“It’s going to be a tough, long summer for us. I think we’ve improved our team by bringing Lance on. When you look at a trade and Red Auerbach always said the team that gets the best player in the trade, gets the best trade. In this case, I think Lance is the best player in this trade for us. We’ve already done that, and we clearly have more to do. We have to. We have to add a couple more, three or four more players, in my opinion, to our roster.”
One of those players may come in the June 25 NBA Draft even though the Clippers don’t currently hold a draft pick. They have held several draft workouts at their training facility recently and could buy a draft pick on draft night.
“We may buy into the draft, we may not,” Rivers said. “I would say if we did, it would probably be second more than first round.”
Rivers and his staff had spent the better part of the past week doing research on Stephenson and calling around the league to see if he was worth the risk.
“In the conversations we’ve had and the conversations I’ve had with some of his ex-teammates and the guys who have coached him I have a pretty good feel, I think, on who he is, what he wants to be, and somewhat of why he struggled last year even,” Rivers said. “I feel very comfortable with that.”
Even if it doesn’t work out, the Clippers hold a team option on the final year of the three-year, $27 million deal Stephenson signed with Charlotte last season.
“Obviously the contract part of it was terrific for us,” Rivers said. “If Lance works out great, and it is a gamble of sorts, then we have the ability to sign him. If he doesn’t, it’s a one-year deal.”