Lance Stephenson‘s tumultuous season reached its apex Wednesday, when “Born Ready” inked a three-year, $12 million deal with the Pacers. Stephenson, who has battled injuries throughout 2016/17, had been waived by the Pelicans and played through two 10-day contracts with the Timberwolves. As could be expected, Stephenson’s multi-year deal sparked discussion throughout the league.
The 26-year-old Stephenson held court with the press following his return to Indiana, discussing his unusual path back to the team that drafted him.
“I was in New York rehabbing,” Stephenson said (Associated Press link). “I was like: ‘Man, I keep getting hurt. I guess I’ll worry about next year.’ When I got the call, I said: ‘Are you kidding? The Indiana Pacers? I’m going home.’” Later in the discussion, Stephenson lauded Pacers president Larry Bird (“probably the only guy who believed in my game”), and vowed to bring a “tough edge” on defense.
Paul George was thrilled to have Stephenson back with the Pacers, talking up Lance’s value as a teammate.
“We had special memories,” George told Nate Taylor of IndyStar.com. “We’ve definitely got a bond on that court. Hopefully we pick up where we left off. He’s excited. He’s always considered Indiana home, so he’s very excited to play with me and us again. This is where he made his name and made his mark. He’s got that in the back of his mind. He definitely thinks he can help this team.”
Mark Bartelstein, one of Stephenson’s two agents, said Lance’s relationship and history with Bird was crucial to the deal’s completion.
“Larry and Kevin are genuine guys and they believe in relationships,” Bartelstein told IndyStar.com. “I think Larry, being a player in this league, knew what Lance was looking for at that time and I think there was always respect. When Larry believes in you, he’s always going to be a fan and he doesn’t hold grudges.”
Andrew Perna of RealGM was more critical of the signing, wondering if Lance is the same player was three years ago.
“There is, however, a fair amount of risk as Stephenson begins his second term in Indiana,” Perna writes. “Groin, ankle and foot injuries have robbed him of the ability to stick somewhere over the past two years. If he’s unable to stay healthy, the Pacers won’t have a chance to rekindle some of the magic we saw in 2013-14…the Pacers are hoping Lance Stephenson will help them play better right now and look better on paper in a few months.”