67RIEFNS No. 37: Lance Stephenson on the loose

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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?