Indiana Pacers

Exclusive: Lance Stephenson opens up on his time in Indiana, his fresh mindset, and playing alongside LeBron

UNLV, Lance Stephenson, Los Angeles Lakers, Former Pacers

LAS VEGAS — It was business as usual for Lance Stephenson this summer, working out daily in Indianapolis and playing in pick-up games against fellow pros several times a week at the Incrediplex in Lawrence. He sat courtside as multiple Indiana Fever games. He still has a home in Zionsville.

He did not expect for much to change, having just completed a full season in his second stint back with the Pacers. And he was under contract for one more year.

However, the third year of his contract, signed in 2017, was a team option. President Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers opted to decline that $4.3 million option in order to have maximum cap flexibility as they waited on veteran Thad Young to decide on his $13.7 million play option. If he opted out, they could have had $30 million to spend in a market with little competition.

The Pacers even released a statement an hour after word got out confirming the news with comment from Pritchard. ” This was a very difficult decision, but as free agency begins on July 1, we want to have flexibility so that we can prepare for all of our available options,” he said.

Three days later, Young exercised his option to remain in Indy.

On July 1, the start of free agency, the Pacers quickly reached agreement on a three-year deal with Doug McDermott, a shooter who needed a stable situation and for a team to believe in him. McDermott and Stephenson (and Kyle O’Quinn) have the same agent, so they were fully aware of what was going on.

As I reported on July 1, the Pacers were in constant communication with Lance and later made him an offer to remain in Indy. With the money being equivalent, both one-year deals, Stephenson decided the opportunity to play in Los Angeles, for the Lakers and with LeBron, was too intriguing to pass up.

Lance Stephenson works out at UNLV.On July 10th, Stephenson was in Los Angeles to sign with the Lakers, his fifth team in seven seasons. The  very next day, he came to Las Vegas and was on the court at the Mendenhall Center — home of USA Basketball’s mini-camp.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James

Lance Stephenson appreciated his time in Indy.

There he was, sporting his familiar look: in tights, Jordan shoes, and listening to music as this went on. Afterwards, he sat down with me to reflect on his time in Indiana and how he’s going into his new situation with an open mind.

The first thing I joked with him about was his number of choice. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope wears No. 1 so Lance will be No. 6 for the Purple & Gold. Ironically, that’s the number LeBron, now his teammate, wore in Miami and with Team USA. And all last season, LeBron wore No. 6 for practice and shootaround.

In all my years around the Pacers, fans have never been more upset about the loss of a player than Lance. He was unpredictable, brought energy to the building, and thrived off the crowd. Not many players off the bench receive a memorable ovation when they check in; his was second loudest, only behind All-Star Victor Oladipo.

The Pacers Team Store sold more Stephenson merchandise than all other players not named Oladipo. (Only a few XXL jerseys remain on the clearance rack.)

“He’s a great person, first and foremost,” said Oladipo, who was regularly joined by Stephenson in pre-game chapel during the season. “He’s a great human being. It was an honor and privilege to play with him last year. He’s going to be aight. That’s my church brother, my chapel brother. He’s going to be just fine.

[From 2014: Examining the Lance Stephenson Saga Part II | From 2018: Part II]

The franchise welcomed him, the crowd embraced him, and that was not overlooked by Stephenson, who would often hear “Born Ready” chants throughout home games. Easily the team’s best passer, he was most effective with the ball in his hands and the freedom to create.

Playing in all 82 games last season, Lance averaged 9.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game off the bench. His assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2) was third on the team, behind point guard Cory Joseph (5.3) and Darren Collison (3.7).

Sure, he had his questionable on-court decisions, but he was a positive force with this franchise.

“I was upset losing him because of everything that he brought to the table. It’s fun being out there with him,” Myles Turner told VigilantSports.com.

Read my Q&A with Lance Stephenson below:


Lance Stephenson, Pacers, Victory Field, Charity Softball

Lance signs autographs for fans at the annual Celebrity Softball Challenge.

You’ve not only played for arguably the greatest of all time, but three (Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and now Magic Johnson) of the game’s top ten players. What do you try to learn from those guys, what is it like to work with them on a daily basis?

Oh man, it’s a blessing because playing for Larry (Bird), playing for Michael Jordan, I got to learn a lot. One of the best players to play the game. It’s just a blessing because you can learn a lot from them and you can take a little bit of information from each and every one of them.

You said when you arrived in Indiana that your father (Lance) was the biggest Larry Bird fan. So how does he feel about this new situation – playing for their biggest rival?

Yeah, my dad was a Larry Bird fan. All of his friends liked Michael Jordan so he used to (go) with Larry Bird. So when I got drafted, he was so excited. He was like, ‘Man, please I want to meet Larry. One time.’ I learned as much as possible from him. It was a blessing just to play for Larry.

How much do you feel Indiana fans, how much they appreciate you and what you were able to do with the Pacers?

I love the fans there. Living there and being involved with the fans, seeing them every day, it was blessing. I felt very loved there. I think it’s sad … [pause] leaving here this time than the first time.

Why’s that? Why do you feel that way?

I just felt like I was never going to leave again. For me leaving this time, it was like, ‘Man… this is happening again?’ I’m definitely happy where I’m at right now. The team that I’m on we got a chance to compete for something major, and I’m going to take this opportunity and try to go high with it.

So this summer, you fully expected to continue on in Indy?

Ah, man. I never … I was even surprised when they declined my option. Just to be a free agent again this year was like, ‘Man, again…” I was definitely upset, but you move on from stuff like that, and you learn and you get stronger from it.

We know few players got long-time deals this summer. Is that something moving forward that would interest you after this year?

Oh yeah, I’m definitely looking for a long-term contract after this. I’m trying to find a home. I’ve been moving a lot and to different teams. [Note: Seven teams in five years.] I’m trying to find a place where I can actually call home and feel comfortable, and actually get a nice place and stay there for a while.

Lebron James, Lance Stephenson, Born Ready, Cleveland Cavaliers, Pacers

Lance Stephenson looked forward to defending LeBron. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

You haven’t closed the door on Indiana, though? It’s weird to think a guy could come back three times.

[laughs] You never know, man. My job right now is to kill this year and find a home. This is a big opportunity playing with one of the greatest to ever play the game. Always playing against him now to play with him, it’s going to be different.

Have you spoken with him, because I know he’s been out of the country?

Not since I signed, no.

Do you even have his number?

No, no.

And you said, until this last year, that he never talked to you on the court.

No, we never talked. It’s going to be crazy to actually be on his team and play with him. It’s going to be a great experience. And to learn from him, learn how he prepares for games.

Have you talked with George Hill about playing alongside LeBron?

No. I try not to ask people about him. I rather go in here with a fresh attitude and not asking other people what is it like or anything like that. I want to get my opinion and my own feel for it. I’m coming into it with a fresh mind.

Lance Stephenson, Born Ready

Lance’s fan section for the 2017-18 season.

No expectations.

No expectations. I don’t want to get a rumor from somebody, ‘Oh he’s not a good teammate’ and all that. I just want to go in there and get my own perspective.

When I mention the Pacers and Indiana, what immediately comes to mind about your time there?

It’s great. It was all a great experience. It’s like leaving family, you know what I mean? Moving on from family. I don’t want to dwell on that. The fans there are amazing.

And you had your own fan section.

Yeah and once you figured you got your own section, you like, ‘Man, I’m never leaving now.’

(Note: It started with Roy Hibbert (Area 55), being traded in 2015. They dealt George Hill (G2 Zone), Rodney Stuckey (Stuckey’s Crew) became a free agent, and then Paul George, by his own request, was moved)

Lance Stephenson, Brian Shaw, Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers

Lance works with BShaw in 2013.

One of the things I think that will be great for you and I bet you’ll like is Brian Shaw. Have you talked with him yet?

I just talked to him. He was supposed to meet me here but they had a coaches meeting. BSHaw had me. When I was with him, I had my best free throw percentage, three-point percentage shooting. I had a better feel for the game.

He’s a point guard so he has a feel for the game and definitely helped me every year. He helped me throughout the year and made me a better player on the court. Just to have him by my side is definitely going to be helpful.

Anything else you would like to say?

I’m going to miss Indiana and my Indiana fans. You know I loved them, and I’m never going to forget them.

Lake Show

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