NBA Saturday: Stephenson Buries His Past
Lance Stephenson Puts His Past Behind Him
Around two-and-a-half years ago, when the Indiana Pacers first drafted Lance Stephenson with the 40th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, they did so knowing that the kid came with some baggage off the court, and truth be told, his first several months as a pro sailed on choppy waters.
For basically two full seasons Stephenson didn’t play at all, with higher-ups in the organization saying things like, “We believe in Lance and his talent, and we hope that someday he’s able to put it all together.” Those kinds of comments explained why the team took a shot on Stephenson as a highly-touted second rounder with loads of talent but a questionable history, but the risk has really started to pay off. Stephenson has finally been able to put it all together.
“I’ve matured all-around with everything—off the court and on the court with my teammates,” Stephenson said. “It was a lot of help from the veterans, who put me in my place and showed me how to be a vet, a good person, a good teammate on and off the court. I’m not saying that I’m so much better right now; I am still working on being more mature.”
It was a lack maturity earlier in his career that caused him the most problems, but this year he has started 28 of Indiana’s 34 games, and there just aren’t a lot of starters on first-place teams that can do what they do without a certain measure of that exact quality.
“Yeah, the media was killing me with that,” he said through a wry grin. “But now I’m just staying out of trouble and doing the right things. All that stuff will be behind you and nobody will think about that anymore, and they will talk about the good stuff that’s going on right now. I am being consistent right now, and with my teammates guiding me through the season, that takes a lot of pressure off.”
For Stephenson, this season has been all about opportunity, which was unfortunately born from the Danny Granger injury that will keep Granger out until around the All-Star break. Stephenson has been the new starter and has remained that way mostly because he’s been such an important defensive asset to Indiana, one of the league’s better defensive teams this year.
“You play defense, and the offense will come to you, so I just play harder on defense and all the other things will come together, especially when you have good players on the floor to help you and you don’t have to force anything,” he said. “I have been playing hard, playing well with the team. I’ve been getting confidence from the coaches, and I think when Danny comes back, everything will fall into place. I’ll just keep working hard and let the game speak for itself.”
That’s what has gotten him this far, which is all very impressive considering his rocky start to the his NBA career. Stephenson really seems to have turned his life around and buried the negatives in his past. That’s translating to a solid pro career, and both he and the Pacers couldn’t be happier with that.
Trade Deadline Chatter Heating Up
Fans have been told for a while now that this wasn’t going to be a particularly interesting trade deadline, that no big-name players would be involved in a major deal come February. In fact, just a week ago in this very same space, it was stated that if DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t the big name moved, this deadline could be a complete and utter snooze-fest.
Ah, what a difference a week makes. More and more outlets are reporting that Memphis is getting serious about moving Rudy Gay (with one rumored deal sending him to Phoenix for Jared Dudley and a first-rounder), and the more games L.A. loses, the more likely it is that Pau Gasol could finally be dealt, as well. Toronto would, of course, love to move Andrea Bargnani once he gets healthy, and the Knicks have no reason not to consider a trade involving Amar’e Stoudemire. All of a sudden, there’s actually quite a lot churning around in the rumor mill.
But CBS Sports’ Ken Berger is saying one surprising player could be added to that list: Boston forward Paul Pierce. It’s not the first we’ve heard about the Celtics showing interest in a blockbuster move, but until now it was assumed that such a move would entail shipping out pretty much anybody other than him. That, apparently, has changed.
Pierce is slated to make $15.3 million next season, but only $4 million of that is guaranteed, which means teams tossing out offers for the longest-tenured Celtic could do so with a couple of different positive outcomes lying ahead of them. Pierce could play well and stick around all through 2013-2014, or he could be cut and his new team could save over $11 million. Either way, he’s someone teams are calling after, and Boston is at least listening to what they have to say.
Considering how well the Celtics have played since Avery Bradley came back, it’s more than reasonable for Boston to consider where they’re headed as a team. If cashing out an aging Pierce for young assets to be used towards rebuilding feels like the organic thing to do, then it’s hard to fault team president Danny Ainge for doing that. In another season-and-a-half, the guy could retire or walk away from Boston with no compensation. His trade value may never be as high as it will be now through the 2013 draft, which is why Ainge is supposedly giving this idea a tick.
Even if Boston doesn’t make a deal before February, Berger explains, there’s a strong possibility Pierce could be traded in the offseason. His contract and skill set will look just as good then as it does now, and Ainge will still be asking himself the same kinds of questions about his organization’s future come June.
At the same time, with the Celtics playing much better of late, winning five straight games, Pierce may see this as one of his waning championship opportunities. If Ainge agrees, there’s no reason not to wait.
Boston trading Pierce has always felt like an impossibility considering how long he’s played there, but if Patrick Ewing could end up in Seattle and Hakeem Olajuwon could end up in Toronto, anything’s possible.
At the very least, the trade deadline has gotten interesting again.