Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hope For the Future: Why the Indiana Pacers Shouldn’t Yet Give Up On Lance Stephenson

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There’s no doubt Lance Stephenson is talented.

On the court he’s a prodigy with enough skill to be considered part of the future of the Indiana Pacers. Off the court he seems like just another thug.

He’s made headlines recently, with online journalists and bloggers going nuts with the recent news of him assaulting his girlfriend, which is extremely serious.

That bit of news led people to dig deeper, and not only are his recent troubles coming to light and bringing him attention, but negative aspects of his character have surfaced from his days in high school and college as well.

Many of the journalists and bloggers weighing in on these issues have voiced a belief that the Indiana Pacers general manager, Larry Bird, would do well just to release the troubled player.

Since becoming the general manager of the Pacers, Bird has seen his fair share of troubling times, some of the toughest in the team’s history.

Of course, in a small way, he has only himself to blame for some of it. He is the one responsible for drafting or bringing in players such as former Pacers Stephen Jackson, Jamaal Tinsley, Ron Artest, Shawne Williams, David Harrison, and a few others.

All of those players, while with the Pacers, affected the team and its chemistry (and more importantly the win-loss column) with their attitudes and off-the-hardwood issues. They were talented, no doubt, but they also brought numerous headaches.

Only three of them have reformed themselves to some degree. Tinsley is now a productive backup point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies, Stephen Jackson is a starter and key component for the Charlotte Bobcats hopes of building a winner under Larry Brown, and Ron Artest is a defensive force and leader at small forward for the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Artest, especially, seems to have conquered his demons, and was one of the keys to the Lakers championship, hitting clutch threes down the stretch in the Game 7 of the Finals against the Boston Celtics.

Williams and Harrison aren’t faring as well. Shawne was arrested just a month ago, and David is trying to redeem himself with the China Basketball League.

Stephenson almost seems destined for the same path as those two.

Dime Magazine has said he could be a future NBA star, labeling him “Born Ready” when he was only 17 years-old. Now 19, Stephenson is facing a very tough situation.

He performed great in the Summer League, and was initially projected by many to possibly be the Pacers starting point guard this season. However, Indiana made a trade with the New Orleans Hornets for Darren Collison and James Posey for Troy Murphy.

Collison is sure to be the starter for the Pacers this year, based on his performance last year replacing superstar point guard Chris Paul. This meant Stephenson would at best be helping out off the bench as a great combo guard.

Then came his arrest.

Since that arrest, there have been frequent calls to just cut him. That might be the most politically correct thing to do, but I think it would be a mistake.

Unlike players like Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley, who were adults in their 20s when they had their issues, Stephenson is and was just a kid. In my honest and humble opinion I believe Indiana should just keep him.

I know, I know it’s a gamble, but I believe it’s a gamble that could pay off.

Stephenson has all the talent in the world you want in a player. I won’t condone his actions, as I believe hitting a woman is despicable, but there have been many players and many people throughout society who have gotten a second chance after doing even far worse.

Everyone makes mistakes, and Stephenson has made his fair share of them, granted. However, I feel there is hope for him. I believe he can be redeemed. I believe he can turn his life around, and in the process, possibly turn the Indiana Pacers future around.

My suggestion would be that Lance be required to get some counseling, and hope that helps him to make the transition from troubled youth to mature adult players like Stephen Jackson, Jamaal Tinsley, and Ron Artest seem to have made.

They made those transitions after they left the Pacers. I’m hoping Stephenson can make it while still with Indiana.

If he were older, I would say just cut him and take your losses. Yet, he’s far too young to give up on.

David Kahn, the president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves said he wouldn’t have gone after and traded for Michael Beasley, due to his past issues, if he were in his mid-20s. In the same way, if Lance were five or six years older I could see not giving him a shot. However, he’s again, just a kid, and deserves another chance.

He brings hope for the future for the Indiana Pacers because of his talent, and could easily develop into a great sixth man soon, and possibly a star in seasons to come. While that potential shouldn’t give him a free pass, it should grant him some consideration.

He’ll need to work for it, absolutely. As teammate Sebastian Telfair has said, he needs to “Man Up” about his behaviour. There will have to be accountability, but I’m of the opinion that accountability shouldn’t be just getting rid of him.

Grant him the chance to work through these problems and show exactly why Larry Bird thought he was a steal in the draft. Perhaps he’ll prove that correct, and Bird will look back on his decision (to keep Stephenson), and say it was a good one.