Charlotte Hornets

Hornets coach Steve Clifford: Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams will start

The Charlotte Hornets have yet to bounce a ball at training camp, but we now know four of the five starters this season.

Center Al Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker were givens. Then Monday coach Steve Clifford said he plans to start free-agent signees Marvin Williams and Lance Stephenson.

Williams, a nine-season veteran, will start at power forward ahead of second-year pro Cody Zeller. Stephenson, Clifford said, will be the starter at either small forward or shooting guard.

That means the last starting spot, the one to be decided over the next few weeks, comes down to shooting guard Gerald Henderson or small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Kidd-Gilchist had one of the team’s better offseasons, Clifford said, both in his conditioning and his work at developing a reliable jump shot. Henderson, a returning captain, is coming off surgery to clean out scar tissue from his right wrist. Henderson said Monday that scar tissue sometimes caused stiffness and discomfort when he dribbled or shot last season.

Stephenson was the Hornets’ top offseason acquisition. He signed a three-year contract (the last season at the Hornets’ option) that could pay him as much as $27.4 million.

While Clifford is excited about ex-Indiana Pacer Stephenson’s potential, he sees the 6-foot-5 swingman as far from a finished product.

“I’ve been around Kobe (Bryant) and (Tracy) McGrady and (Latrell) Sprewell in his prime. Lance isn’t there yet,” Clifford said. “Lance was 13 1/2 (ppg.) last year. He’s young and talented. His efficiency shooting the ball, getting his turnovers down (need to improve). For us to talk about him as a legitimate All-Star player who we can play through, that’s the jump he needs to make and he knows that.”

After studying video of Stephenson this summer, Clifford concluded it’s best that Stephenson not see himself first as a scorer, but rather focus on versatility.

“I don’t know if for him to play well it will ever be really big scoring numbers,” Clifford said.

“He naturally plays in a way to make the right play – he hits the roll man a ton on pick-and-roll. He’s not a hungry scorer, which to me is a good thing. If you surround him with shooters, he can be a handful in pick-and-roll. Pass, rebound, he defends well. He’s a guy who can play well in all aspects of the game.”

Remembering McRoberts: Productive as the summer was for the Hornets, they had a significant loss when power forward Josh McRoberts signed with the Miami Heat. Clifford said no one person will compensate for the ball-movement, shooting and defense McRoberts provided.

“Losing him was a hit – I love the way he plays,” Clifford said. “And yet we did a good job of bringing in players who can make up for what he did. Marvin Williams will do a lot of the same things Josh did, but in a different way, with his range shooting. And obviously Lance is a playmaker who creates shots for his teammates. There will be differences, but I still think our starting lineup will be stronger.”

Another fish story: Kidd-Gilchrist clearly looked lighter Monday than he was last season. He said he dropped about 8 pounds last spring by giving up all meat. Fish is his primary source of protein.

It’s unclear just how long that will last. Kidd-Gilchrist admitted Monday he has a strong craving for a good steak.

A reminder each morning: Jefferson said it took him three to four months to feel normal again after the plantar fascia injury that hobbled him in the playoff series against the Heat last April.

Jefferson ripped the band along the bottom of his foot, causing pain he described as like walking on coals. The effects are gone now, he says, except for a tightness when he wakes up each morning, a typical after-effect from the injury.

Vonleh progressing: Rookie power forward Noah Vonleh said he hopes to be fully cleared medically in the next two to three weeks, following surgery to repair a sports hernia.

Vonleh said he was playing pickup basketball on Indiana’s campus when he felt a “pop,” which he thought was just a groin pull. But the pain grew worse, and he had an MRI that revealed a tear.

Vonleh is now able to work out on an elliptical machine and start some light shooting and jogging. He says he’s feeling much better in the last week.

WFNZ again: The Hornets announced Monday their radio flagship station will again be WFNZ-AM 610.

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