Indiana Pacers

67RIEFNS No. 37: Lance Stephenson on the loose


The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.

Lance Stephenson was suspended five games as a high school junior for fighting a teammate. The next year, he pleaded guilty to groping a female classmate. He went to Cincinnati, where he underwhelmed before declaring for the NBA draft after only one season. The Pacers drafted him in the second round. Before his first season, he was accused of pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs, though the case was later dismissed. He barely played a rookie and played only slightly more his second year. His most notable act of those first two seasons was making a choke gesture from the bench at LeBron James. Stephenson reportedly drew the ire of teammate Roy Hibbert, bickered with with teammate George Hill on the bench and fought teammate Evan Turner during the most-recent regular season. In the playoffs, he publicly challenged LeBron and then blew in LeBron’s ear.

From criminal to clownish, Stephenson has nearly halted his upward trajectory many times.

But – thanks in large part to the care of Larry Bird and the Pacers – Stephenson has overcome.

The organization nurtured him. While many teams let marginal prospects sink or swim on their own, Bird took special care with Stephenson. Whether that meant supporting, teaching or scolding, Bird looked out for Stephenson.

By working with him on the court and off, the Pacers molded Stephenson into a near All-Star. Stephenson, though still far from perfect, has become a real success story – as long as he doesn’t mess it up.

Stephenson signed this summer with Charlotte, where he’ll have more freedom on and off the court.

The Hornets had an even worse offense and played even slower than Indiana last season. They need Stephenson to freelance, to add a little spice to a too-stagnant attack.

Bird is no longer around to help keep Stephenson on the straight and narrow. He’s in a new city, and he’ll have a chance to find new influences – good or bad.

To top it off, the Hornets will pay him this season alone more than double his career earnings to date. That money can change a person.

Stephenson is growing up, and Bird and the Pacers couldn’t shelter him forever. Is Stephenson ready for all this responsibility?

67RIEFNS No. 33: Emotional swings of Roy Hibbert


The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.

At times, Roy Hibbert looks dominant.

One of the game’s best defenders, he can protect the rim at historically great levels. Even away from the hoop, his defense has developed.

So has his his offense. At times, his post-ups are impressive, and he’s emerging as a pick-and-roll finisher.

Now, with Paul George injured and Lance Stephenson in Charlotte, the Pacers need Hibbert more than ever.

Joakim Noah was the only other All-Star with a below-average usage rate last season. With Derrick Rose getting healthy and Pau Gasol signing, Noah can fade a bit further into the background offensively this year.

Hibbert, on the other hand, must step up.

As the the Pacers faced increased expectations late last season, Hibbert regressed. Especially in the playoffs, his game fell apart.

Maybe an offseason to get his mind right – and train with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – will get him right. He showed just enough in the second half last season to believe he can come back better than  ever.

All this pressure could produce something great… or it could cause Hibbert to crumble. Either way, I’ll be watching.

Lance Stephenson says Pacers setting deadline to re-sign forced him to look elsewhere in free agency


At the beginning of this summer’s free agent signing period, the Pacers pulled out all the stops to make their pitch to Lance Stephenson.

But they also may have done something that forced him to look elsewhere.

Indiana came with what it believed was a fair offer of five years and $44 million, but also set an artificial deadline for Stephenson to accept it. Wisely, Stephenson declined, wanting to see if he could make more on the open market instead.

From Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star:

“I wanted to stay there but they gave me a deadline where I had to choose,” Stephenson said. “So there wasn’t no time for me to make a decision. They gave me a deadline (before) how long it (was) going to take for them to go somewhere else.

“I had to make a quick decision and me and my agent decided we would see what other teams (were) talking about.”

On July 2, the Pacers turned their attention to Plan B and agreed to terms with free agent CJ Miles. In Stephenson’s view, the Miles’ deal sealed his departure from the Pacers.

“They didn’t have nothing else. They had no more money or anything. That was basically it right there,” Stephenson said. “Soon as I said no to that offer, they went and signed CJ. I figured they thought I had no chance of coming back, they just went on and signed CJ. … I felt like it was a wrap after that.”

It’s very possible that the Pacers did all of this on purpose.

Stephenson was one of Indiana’s only two consistent playmakers on the offensive end of the floor last season, but he also came unhinged emotionally at the worst possible time during the Eastern Conference Finals. It was believed all along that the Pacers would only go so far in offering Stephenson a deal to re-sign, and while the numbers appeared to be fair on the surface (and could fool the team’s fans into thinking that the offer was sincere), the reality was that Stephenson could likely do better somewhere else.

The fact that the team placed an artificial deadline on him accepting the deal essentially ensured that Stephenson wouldn’t take it, and going out and signing Miles once Stephenson declined (which reduced the team’s available cap space in the process) only made it less likely that a deal with Stephenson would eventually get done — and Pacers president Larry Bird knew that.

PBT Extra: Miami leads teams taking step back this season


When you lose the best player walking the face of the earth, your team gets worse.

Which is why when Jenna Corrado and I discussed teams I expect to take a step back this season, Miami is right at the top of the list. The Heat will still be good, they are still a playoff team in the East, but they are no longer the contenders they once were.

Another team obviously taking a step back is Indiana, a team that struggled on offense and now is without Lance Stephenson (left via free agency) and Paul George (injury). Going to be a rough season in Indy.

Finally, we talk Rockets. They are still a 50-win team, but they lost so much depth that it will cost them some games. And in the brutally deep West, that drops you fast down the standings.

Kobe Bryant on Julius Randle playing with Kobe, for Byron Scott: ‘If you f— this up, you’re a really big idiot’


Lakers coach Byron Scott is trying to motivate rookie Julius Randle by publicly calling him out for not being in good enough shape. Repeatedly.

If that seems harsh, you should see Kobe Bryant’s words for the No. 7 pick.

Remember, this is the same Kobe who called ESPN voters who ranked him the NBA’s 40th-best player “idiots.”

Kobe on Randle playing with Kobe, for Scott:

If you f— this up, you’re a really big idiot. You know what I mean? ESPN are idiots, but you’re a really big idiot if you manage to f— this up.

Unfortunately, it really doesn’t work that way. The best players, even those with championship experience, don’t necessarily make the best mentors and coaches. They can’t just transfer their knowledge and skills through osmosis.

While Kobe has played for the Lakers, a dozen other first-round picks have made their debuts:

  • Javaris Crittenton
  • Jordan Farmar
  • Andrew Bynum
  • Sasha Vujacic
  • Brian Cook
  • Kareem Rush
  • Mark Madsen
  • Devean George
  • Tyronn Lue
  • Sam Jacobson

And here are first-round picks who made their debuts on teams Scott coached:

  • Tyler Zeller:
  • Dion Waiters
  • Tristan Thompson
  • Kyrie Irving
  • Christian Eyenga
  • Darren Collison
  • Julian Wright
  • Hilton Armstrong
  • Cedric Simmons
  • Chris Paul
  • J.R. Smith
  • Zoran Planinic
  • Brandon Armstrong
  • Jason Collins
  • Richard Jefferson
  • Kenyon Martin

Scott seems to have a much better record of player development than Kobe, both are far from perfect. Perhaps, all the busts just screwed it up themselves, but I think it’s more likely neither Scott nor Kobe provide a perfect Petri dish for rookies to grow.

Unquestionably, Randle can learn from Kobe and Scott. And, so far, it seems Randle has the talent to succeed.

But even if Randle takes every reasonable step, it’s still possible he fails as an NBA player. It’s far to soon to declare he’ll make it – even with Kobe and Scott around.