Over the course of the majority of the first half of the season, Lance Stephenson’s improved play was a huge reason that the Pacers got off to such a strong start. He was a triple-double threat on seemingly a nightly basis, and played under control and within his team’s system.
By the time Indiana’s season was over following Friday’s blowout Game 6 loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, Stephenson had gone rogue, and had resorted to tactics that had little to do with basketball in the final two games of the series.
Pacers president Larry Bird condemned Stephenson’s odd decision to blow in the ear of LeBron James in Game 5, and head coach Frank Vogel expressed a similar sentiment following the whole host of things that Stephenson tried to do to mess with his opponent in Game 6.
“It’s tough to say,” Vogel said, when asked if Stephenson’s antics hurt more than they helped. “I don’t think it’s ever good … what’s everybody call it? Tug on Superman’s cape. I don’t think that’s ever good. But I’ll take Lance Stephenson’s competitive edge. Like I said, I just don’t think it’s good to tug on the cape.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wouldn’t even discuss Stephenson afterward, saying only, “We’re playing for something much bigger than that guy” when the subject was broached.
Stephenson showed he can play this year, and could be a real asset to a team with the right amount of veteran leadership in the locker room capable of keeping him in check. He also showed why general managers around the league will be extremely leery of handing him a high-dollar, long-term contract in free agency this summer.