Upset with his team’s effort in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, Pacers All-Star Paul George publicly called out his teammates and demanded that they play with more energy and urgency. George spoke his mind in an effort to rile up his teammates as Indiana’s inconsistencies could cause them to miss out on the playoffs. But while George’s comments were directed at his teammates, they didn’t fall on deaf ears in Indiana’s front office; they responded to his criticism by reportedly signing the energetic Lance Stephenson to a three-year deal.
Stephenson started his career with the Pacers and was part of the Indiana teams that were led by George and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in back-to-back years. He decided not to re-sign with the Pacers in the summer of 2014 and after that, his career has been a series of quick stops with the Hornets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Pelicans and Timberwolves. But based on the three-year deal Indiana gave him, the Pacers believe that Stephenson can become the player he once was. George at least believes that and is quite excited to be team up with Stephenson again.
“We had special memories,” George said after the Pacers’ loss. “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.”
“Lance is a ball player and he’s a guy that fits right in,” George said. “I think one area that we need and we’re lacking is a shot creator and a playmaker (in the second unit) and you’ve got a guy that can do both of those.”
“I, for sure, can’t wait for him to get back in that jersey,” George said. “I know Indiana and the fans are going to enjoy him back in that jersey, too.”
Although the Pacers have yet to make the signing official, Taylor reports that Stephenson will likely be able to play in Indiana’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. And given Stephenson’s past history with LeBron James in a Pacers uniform, playing against the Cavs in his first game back is quite fitting.
George’s excitement for Stephenson though, should be tempered. Stephenson is still a versatile player, decent on defense and a solid playmaker, but he is still an erratic shooter and has been inconsistent since he left the Pacers. There’s a reason why Stephenson struggled to find an NBA home at the beginning of the season and then after he recovered from a groin injury — he just isn’t the player he used to be.
But perhaps playing alongside an All-Star and former teammate in George can help Stephenson to get into a consistent rhythm on the court. George clearly has faith in Stephenson, and maybe just having the support of George and the Pacers is all Stephenson needs to be the player he once was. That’s what the Pacers are hoping happens as they are currently eighth in the East and will need Stephenson to deliver a jolt of energy in order for them to make the postseason.