The 2013-14 season seemed a long time coming for Lance Stephenson. Anointed “Born Ready” as a prep star, he hit career highs across the board, led the league in triple-doubles and came close to an All-Star spot as he and the Indiana Pacers blew past -- and, yes, on -- the competition in a season that brought home the Eastern Conference’s best record.
His path hasn’t been as clear since. Stephenson has played for three teams the past two seasons, including two last season. Now 26, the veteran swingman signed a one-year, minimum contract -- with just $100,000 guaranteed, per The Vertical -- with the New Orleans Pelicans just before training camp in the hopes of catching on for the full season.
Here, Stephenson discusses both his past experiences and what lies ahead:
So, to start with, your Instagram video of you getting ready to play “NBA 2K” kind of took off. How’d it go this weekend?
LS: Aw, man. It went great. When I got the game I was in my hotel room just playing all day. I like to play with a lot of teams. It also helps me out to figure out how to play with other players and how to figure out their games. I also play online, so it gives me time to just chill and relax and do my thing.
Are you on the Pelicans yet in the game?
LS: No, not yet. If you get it hooked up to the internet, that’s when they put me on.
I guess that leads me to my next question: You joined the team recently. What went into that decision, and how did that all work out for you?
LS: I liked this team, and I see a couple young guys that I could potentially help and show all the other stuff that I learned from other places, from guys like Chris Paul, Paul George, Paul Pierce. Just teach them, and help them believe and show them the right way to work out there and what it takes to make it to the conference finals, and getting that work in every day.
I know Jrue Holiday's situation kind of opened up an opportunity, at least from the team’s perspective, to get another ball handler in there. Was it a situation where they reached out after that, or were you guys talking before then?
LS: We were actually talking before then. I was just weighing my options. I figured this was the best team to go to, and I can help this program win -- help the young guys in here and also help me at the same time.
What sort of role has the coaching staff talked to you about? What role do you envision yourself having with the team?
LS: Coach [Alvin Gentry] does a great job with the guys, putting them in a position where they can succeed. Basically he told me just play off instinct and make smart decisions. Just play within the offense, look to make everyone better.
I know you haven’t started training camp or anything, but are they going to look for you to handle the ball more?
LS: Oh, of course. That’s basically part of my game. Whatever the coach tells me to do -- if you want me to be a lockdown defender, if you want me to play the point sometimes at the end of games, or play the corner. Whatever it takes to help my teammates win, that’s basically what I’m gonna do.
Once you signed, people online started to toss out that SLAM “Punks” cover with you, Tyreke [Evans], Jrue and Brandon Jennings. What’s it like growing up with those guys, and now being on the same team with two of them?
LS: I mean, Jrue Holiday has always been nice on the floor. And he’s nice off the court. And Tyreke. We all used to go up against each other back in the day. They’re all smart guards, and they know how to make the right decisions. They’ve always been elite. So me playing against them only helped my game, because they were one year older than me.
Last year you had a situation where you were split between two teams, but they also seemed like they were asking you to do two different things: With the Clippers, they needed more of a 3 who’s looking to stretch the floor, whereas the Grizzlies, you might have had the ball in your hands more than ever. What was that like for you to be in two very different situations?
LS: I mean, it definitely helped me. I feel like all of those experiences with different teams actually helped me to be the player that I am now. Learning from Chris Paul, learning from Paul Pierce. And then going to Memphis, learning from Zach Randolph, learning from Tony Allen, the defensive side, and Mike Conley, a point guard with high IQ. Just those experiences, I feel like it helped me be a better player. Taking what they do and putting it in my own style.
Back in Indiana, that last season you were at your best -- all the triple-doubles and almost making the All-Star Game. What about that situation there made things go so well for you?
LS: I had so many situations. Playing with guys that are actually good and know how to play their role. Playing with [David West], playing with Roy Hibbert, Paul George, George Hill. Those guys helped me throughout the season, and Coach Frank [Vogel] put me in position where I’d been with them so long that they figured out my game and knew that when I drive where I’m gonna pass it to. So they knew which spots to be in. I feel like that came with experience and playing with each other so long, we figured out each other’s habits.
That team has pretty much been broken up now. You guys were on the fringe of the NBA Finals and now Paul George is really the only guy left there.
LS: I know. It’s part of the NBA, part of the business. That’s why when you’re in those situations you never know what can happen next year, so you have to cherish those moments.
You had a situation where you could have stayed there [ESPN reported in July 2014 that the Pacers initially made a five-year, $44 million offer] but ended up choosing not to and ultimately signed with Charlotte. Is that something you ever think back on or regret?
LS: I don’t think I really chose not to go there. I don’t want to get into that, but it goes with the business. We never came to an agreement. I’m not going to say I turned it down -- I didn’t do that. But I don’t want to dwell on the past. I’m happy with the position I’m in now. I’m just gonna move forward and work hard and get back to that elite basketball player that I was.
So what’s it been like since you left Indiana? You’ve played for a few teams now. You’ve been in the spotlight for so long, even in high school. What have these past two, three years been like for you?
LS: It’s been tough, but it’s been a great experience. In the NBA, it’s all about you got to be in the right predicament. Not the right predicament, but you got to cherish the moments that you in and play hard. Because you never know. You could be on a different team within a second. I feel like I learned a lot. This process has made me a better player, made me see different type of games and how people play on the court.
Do you feel like you’ve changed at all over the past few years?
LS: Oh, of course. When you come into the NBA as a youngster, you got babied all your life. Everybody from when you were younger saying, “You’re gonna be in the NBA. You’re this and that.” But once you get in the NBA, there are a lot of guys similar to you, so you have to learn how to do different things to keep developing. So you’ve got to put in the hard work and learn from other guys, see how they work out. Really, I feel like all the stuff I’ve been through has made me a better player. I feel like God puts you in situations to help you succeed in the long run.
Do you have a good feeling about where you are now?
LS: Definitely. I love this game. I play because I love this game. I want to be one of the best. I want to be known as a hard worker. I love this game. I don’t want to say this experience brings me down; it made me stronger.