Stephenson welcomes former teammates to Charlotte

by Scott Agness

A preseason game, on the road and at Charlotte typically wouldn’t garner very much attention whatsoever.

This one, however, does.

George Hill and Lance Stephenson at a local basketball event in Indy this past summer.

The Pacers conclude a two-game road trip and the preseason tonight in Charlotte, against a familiar face.

It’ll be the first time Lance Stephenson will turn his head and look across the floor at what was all he knew for four years. The Pacers — Larry Bird, specifically — took a chance on the Brooklyn bred shooting guard who had completed one year at the University of Cincinnati.

“Brooklyn bred now I’m out N.C./Me and Kemba in the backcourt, (guys) are dead meat.”

After being selected by the Pacers, Stephenson stayed away from team facilities until a New York case was resolved. Then, Bird guaranteed the second rounders contract because he believed in the young man. Two years in, Bird said at the usual end-of-the-year press conference that Stephenson was the team’s best player. Everybody laughed that day.

Not Bird. And not Lance.

Stephenson made huge strides in his four years with the Pacers, and still has a ways to go. He’s beginning to understand who he is, what he stands for, and what kind of player he can be in the NBA. He’s an All-Star caliber player, and it beat him up last February when the Eastern Conference coaches passed on selecting him as a reserve for the team.

To the detriment of the team, he took it out on those coaches whenever the team played against them. He competed every night. There was never any worry whether Lance would be up for a March game, one of more than a dozen during their busiest month. Yes, he stole rebounds from teammates and got too amp’d frequently. He led the team in both rebounds (7.2) and assists (4.6) in 2013, and was third on the team in points per game (13.8). That’s a gaping hole that the Pacers, no matter how they try, won’t be able to fill this season.

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