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Published September 12, 2015
The Charlotte Hornets brought in Lance Stephenson figuring he'd help take the franchise to the next level.
So far the only step the Hornets have taken is backward.
Charlotte is 4-15 and mired in a 10-game losing streak, a start coach Steve Clifford called "disappointing."
"I thought at this point we would be in a much different place than we are," Clifford said Thursday.
Stephenson has struggled since his arrival in Charlotte, shooting 37.9 percent from the field and a woeful 17.5 percent from 3-point range.
The fiery swingman who was brought in to provide a needed weapon in clutch situations has been benched in the fourth quarter three different times this season due to lack of production.
Stephenson said it's been tougher than he thought trying to fit in with new teammates and learning a new system after four seasons in Indiana, but is starting to get more comfortable with his role.
"I have to take time and watch film and learn my new teammates," said Stephenson, adding that he expects his shooting to improve when he gets more familiar with his surroundings.
Clifford said he's not down on Stephenson, and said expectations for him coming into organization might have been too high.
"To be fair, one of the things that's made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar," Clifford said during a postgame press conference last week. "He's not a star. He's a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years."
Still, $27 million over three years is a lot to pay a player who is sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter.
Stephenson said being removed in those situations at times this season has been a "frustrating" experience because he's so competitive and feels like he can be a factor.
But he isn't questioning Clifford's thinking.
"Whatever coach decides to do I'm going to have to roll with that," Stephenson said. "If coach decided that, I can't argue with that. It's probably because I've made a mistake or done something wrong that I need to work on in the film room. But I'm not mad at all when he does that."
Said Clifford: "He played in the same place for four years and a lot of it is different. He has new teammates he's learning to play with and it's a comfort thing."
Stephenson hasn't been the only problem for the Hornets.
Charlotte has struggled defending the perimeter and on the glass. Opponents are averaging nearly three 3-pointers more than the Hornets and out-rebounding them by 2.2 per game.
The Hornets have been outscored by 7.5 points per game.
Charlotte has played one of the toughest schedules in the league to open the season, facing the majority of playoff contenders in the Western Conference in their first 19 games. The schedule will get easier in the weeks to come.
Injuries haven't helped either.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, perhaps the team's top defender, has missed 13 games, Gary Neal and rookie P.J. Hairston have been in and out of the lineup and is Gerald Henderson is off to a slow start after missing the entire preseason. And Jeffery Taylor has not played this season while serving a 24-game suspension for a domestic violence charge.
Point guard Kemba Walker remains optimistic the Hornets have plenty of time to bounce back, last year when Charlotte was eight games under .500 (15-23) in January but rallied to finish 43-39 and earn the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"We still have a lot of games left, and while people might not see it, we're actually getting a lot better as a team," Walker said. "Our chemistry is starting to come together and I think we're getting better each and every day."
Said Stephenson: "The games that we are losing are over little mistakes that we can adjust. We will be all right but we just have to focus more."