Lance Stephenson exploded onto the scene last year in the NBA for the Indiana Pacers. Yes, Stephenson had been on the team for three years already at the start of last season and had played some valuable minutes for them, but he was still mostly known for giving the choke sign to LeBron James while sitting on the bench in the 2012 playoffs.
Last year, Stephenson improved drastically on the court, proving to be a very real scoring threat as well as a quality defender. It seemed that the Pacers hit jackpot with the combination of Stephenson and Paul George, but Stephenson’s antics at times were a nuisance to even his teammates.
Maybe one of the reasons Stephenson ultimately left the Pacers this offseason is because of the chatter that his teammates disliked his antics, but others would believe it was for the quicker money in Charlotte.
Stephenson signed a three year $27 million deal with the Hornets as a free agent, leaving behind the only team he had played for in the NBA thus far, and his biggest supporter in Hall of Famer Larry Bird.
Bird recently spoke with IndyStar.com, and gave his thoughts on Lance leaving the Pacers:
I really feel bad about losing him. I hope it doesn’t interfere with our relationship. But I did what I could possibly do to keep him here. Even if he didn’t have any other offers, I was committed to giving him that $44 million because I believe in the kid. If you look at our roster, we have five or six guys in the last year of their deals, plus David (West) and Roy (Hibbert) can opt out, so don’t you think I wanted to keep Lance and Paul (George) locked into long-term deals?’
It’s just disappointing. When I’d go to practices, when he was on, he was by far our best player. And he worked. If you work as hard as he does, you’re going to get better. I’m going to miss the kid, no question. And he’s growing up. That stuff he pulled in the playoffs, that was out of the blue. But I knew how good Lance was and the value he brought to our team.
We will have to wait and see if Lance’s play continues to improve next year in Charlotte, or his antics end up getting the better of him down the road.