The Timberwolves signed Stephenson to a 10-day contract on Wednesday, hoping the enigmatic guard can bring some toughness and experience to a young team. With essentially a week to make an impression before the All-Star break, Stephenson will have to be on his best behavior as he tries to reclaim a place for himself.
"My job is to work hard, prove my point and show everybody I belong in this league," Stephenson said after the team's shootaround before Wednesday night's game against Toronto.
The Timberwolves were in need of depth on the wing after losing young star Zach LaVine for the season to a torn ACL. Coach Tom Thibodeau said he always liked what he saw from Stephenson when he played for the Indiana Pacers earlier in his career and often faced off against Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls in the Central Division.
"I like the fact that he was part of some really good Indiana teams," Thibodeau said. "You already know he has it in him. Now we've got to get it out of him again."
Those Pacers years were a long time ago, though. Stephenson had found a way to bottle his volatility with the Pacers, emerging as a two-way force alongside Paul George. But he left to sign a three-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets in 2014, and things went downhill.
Stephenson did not fit in with coach Steve Clifford and the Hornets and was traded to theLA Clippersthe following summer. The Clippers sent him to Memphis at the trade deadline last year, and though he played well for the injury-plagued Grizzlies down the stretch, Memphis showed little interest in keeping him.
Stephenson signed with New Orleans before this season but was waived after he suffered a groin injury that required surgery.
"He's been his own worst enemy a lot of times, and I think he'd be the first to tell you that," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "But a very talented young man."
Sitting at home watching the league while he healed offered Stephenson some time to reflect on things. He says he comes to Minnesota with a better understanding of the game and his place in it.
"I came in as a young kid. I've seen a lot and learned a lot," he said. "I feel like I'm ready for this opportunity."
The Timberwolves have five games before the All-Star break, which should give Stephenson plenty of chances to show what he has learned. Minnesota could sign him to a second 10-day contract before having to make a decision on keeping him around for the rest of the season or letting him go.
"I think it's a great opportunity," Stephenson said. "There are a lot of young, great players. I feel like I can come in with some veteran experience and try to help the team."