Former Laker, Pacer Close to Return to NBA: Report

Lance Stephenson

Getty Lance Stephenson

In all, Lance Stephenson has played five seasons with the Pacers. But let’s face it—they were the only five years in which Stephenson really made an impact in the NBA. Little wonder, then, that as Stephenson is seeking a return to the league after having played this season in exile in China, the Pacers are the team trying to bring him aboard.

When last we saw Stephenson in the NBA, he was a Laker. He appeared in 68 games last season, averaging 7.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists. But he was unable to land a job in free agency last summer and wound up taking a one-year deal worth $4 million with the Liaoning Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association.

In 29 games, he averaged 26.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the Leopards. But the CBA suspended its schedule in late January because of the coronavirus outbreak and Stephenson could now seek a waiver from the league and FIBA to come back to the NBA.

We did get this look at Stephenson exploring Macau as part of the East Asian Super League last month:


Injuries Depleted Pacers Backcourt

The Pacers have been strapped for depth and the team’s familiarity with Stephenson should help. The team faces an uncertain near-term future with the absence of Malcolm Brogdon, who is out with a, “torn left rectus femoris.” That’s, essentially, a torn muscle in the upper thigh and hip area. Brogdon, according to the team, is “week-to-week” with the injury.

The team also lost Jeremy Lamb to a torn ACL two weeks ago. With star guard Victor Oladipo struggling in his return from a ruptured quad injury, the Pacers are badly in need of backcourt help.

Stephenson is a more natural 2-guard but can pitch in handling the ball. He has struggled as a 3-point shooter, making just 31.5 percent in his career, though he shot 37.1 percent on 2.9 3-point attempts per game last season in L.A. He made only 30.0 percent from the 3-point line in China.


Lance Stephenson’s Checkered NBA Career

Stephenson spent nine seasons in the NBA, averaging 8.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He made his reputation on the defensive end but did have some especially productive offensive spurts—particularly in 2013-14 with the Pacers, when he averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists for an Indiana team that won 56 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals.

His coach in Indiana that year was current Lakers coach Frank Vogel. Former Lakers guard and Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw, then an assistant with Vogel and the Pacers, was a key influence on the often-erratic Stephenson at that time.

Stephenson’s career hit the skids immediately after that season, though, when he signed a three-year free-agent deal with Charlotte and left the calming influence of Shaw. He played 61 games in Charlotte, averaging 8.2 points and 37.6 percent shooting (17.1 percent from the 3-point line) before the team dumped him to the Clippers the following summer.

He cycled through the Grizzlies, Pelicans and Timberwolves organizations before going back to the Pacers. As Indiana preps for a postseason run, that’s where Stephenson’s eyes are fixed now, too.

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