Chris Copeland feeling ‘much better,’ proud of the Pacers’ fight this season

Chris Copeland returned home to Indianapolis 10 days ago after a scary incident in New York City. Around 4 a.m. on April 8th, he and his ex-fiancée were attacked while waiting on their ride outside of a nightclub. They both suffered multiple stabbing wounds and Copeland needed surgery that afternoon on his left (non-shooting) elbow and abdomen.

He was not with the team for their final five games of the regular season, and by losing in their season finale in Memphis, the Pacers did not qualify for the postseason.

Copeland, a stand-up guy, quickly became a fan favorite in Indianapolis.

With the season over, the players had their annual exit interviews with the training staff, coaches, and front office. And while the players do not have exit interviews with the media, Copeland did talk with Wheat Hotchkiss of for their season-ending interview series.

“I’m much better,” Copeland said in the interview, wearing a black t-shirt and stocking cap. He did not appear to be in a sling. “I appreciate all the love and support. It’s been overwhlemingly positive and I appreciate it.”

It didn’t matter that he only played 91 regular-season games with the team, or that he averaged five points per appearance. Now 31, he was a player fans appreciated because of his work ethic to follow his dream — and simply because Indiana folks love shooters.

“It’s a blessing,” he said of all the fan support. “I’m just appreciative of different people. I’ve said they can just relate to my story, which is probably how I got here I would say. Just glad that they do support and show that love. I thought God everyday for it.”

Copeland’s time with the Pacers certainly didn’t go as planned. In 2013, fresh off his first NBA season and playing in New York, he was a free agent and was sold on the Pacers in free agency.

The Pacers needed a shooter off the bench, and he thought he could provide them with that instant offense. They sent him an incredible gift package, featuring himself on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, and contents inside included notes on the franchise, the city, and how he would fit in.

Shortly thereafter, Luis Scola, a player team president Larry Bird had coveted for quite awhile, became available and Bird pounced on it, unloading Gerald Green’s terrible contact, along with promising rookie Miles Plumlee and their 2014 first-round pick.

Not one month in town and little basketball played — he had a minor knee operation — Copeland had already been pushed down the depth chart.

He had some bright spots over his two years, including 18 points in 17 minutes — plus the game-winning shot in Milwaukee to lead the reserves to a road victory.

Copeland played in just eight of the final 28 games before the New York incident that ended his season one week early.

“I’m proud of my guys in that we were never out of the fight,” Copeland continued. “Even to the last game we had a chance to get in the playoffs, and we showed no matter what ups and downs, we competed every night.”

Copeland, who now views himself as the old guy, is one of the most thoughtful in the locker room. By that, I mean he is always deep in thought — about the team, life, music, and whatever else he was consuming. He and David West were two of the guys that liked to have real discussion about things not involving basketball.

The same day he returned home, numerous teammates were sure to go visit him after beating Oklahoma City.

“It’s a brotherhood in this locker room,” Copeland said candidly. “These are guys that will be my family for the rest of my life.”

The most public display of this was the support from his teammates, specifically Paul George and Solomon Hill. Those two wore headbands, and would “until 22 gets back,” George said.

Before games, he would sit in his corner locker, next to Lavoy Allen, and prepare himself for that night’s game by listening to music and playing dominos on his iPad. He was never sure if he was going to rip off his warmups that night, but he always prepared as if he would.

Don’t expect that to change this summer as he looks forward to next season. First, he’s got to get healthy after stabbing wounds required surgery. Then, it’s back to basketball and preparing himself for what’s next.

Copeland, who just wrapped up his two-year deal worth $6.1 million, officially becomes a free agent in July. He moved into a north side house two years ago because he wanted to be here long term, but No. 22 will have to continue his career elsewhere. Until then, he told Hotchkiss that he plans to keep working in Indy and at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I want to continue to work on getting stronger,” he said of his offseason goals. “I think that’s going to be important as far as playing more at the ‘4.’ Getting quicker for when I play the ‘3.’ So just probably do a lot in the weight room working with [Pacers strength and conditioning coach] Shawn Windle and the staff.”

Copeland was a great teammate, never complaining about his diminished role on the team whatsoever. He handled it with class and always made himself available to the media. It just didn’t work out with the Pacers.

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