Sources: Pacers guard Lance Stephenson had offseason surgery
Stephenson rejoined the franchise that drafted him on Jan. 1, then later signed on for the rest of the season. He'll be a free agent in July.
Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson underwent offseason surgery, Fieldhouse Files has learned.
After the season ended on April 10, Stephenson had surgery on his right knee to remove a few loose particles and he’s already back on the floor shooting, league sources said.
The surgery was performed by Dr. Brian Cole in Chicago.
The Pacers’ 2010 second-round pick had been out of the NBA for the past three seasons, then got an opportunity with the Nate McMillan-coached Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 22. He was signed to a 10-day contract via the COVID-19 hardship exception.
Once that expired, Stephenson finally got his wish: To return home to Indiana.
The Pacers signed him to a 10-day hardship deal, then another, then two standard 10-day contracts before signing him for the rest of the season on Feb. 3.
See Also: Notes From Player Exit Interviews
In his first home game in front of fans that he said feels like family, Stephenson scored the Pacers’ final 20 points in the first quarter — which was perhaps the highlight of the season for the team — and he did it against his hometown Brooklyn Nets.
“I was energized (that) I couldn’t even sleep last night,” he said after finishing with 30 points, his highest total in 338 career games with the Pacers. “I was definitely excited for this game. I just knew the fans was gonna come out and make me feel welcome. When you’re playing in front of a crowd that’s welcoming you, it’s amazing. I just had to go out and show out.”
Rick Carlisle is the fourth different Pacers head coach Stephenson has played for, along with Jim O’Brien, Frank Vogel and Nate McMillan. Carlisle had a basic understanding of Stephenson’s game before they brought him back, they actually considered signing him in Dallas when he was a free agent in 2014.
But you cannot understand the relationship he has with fans until you experience it. Team president Kevin Pritchard told Carlisle then: “He’s got a real connection and a real magical thing with our fans.”
Stephenson, who lives in Zionsville, has remained in town for most of the offseason. He was one of several players to attend Fever home games last month.
As I’ve written about plenty before, he has matured quite a bit since his previous stints in Indy. He doesn’t want to ever leave again. He’s changed his mentality, understands that his role is more about helping the young guys and staying ready for when called upon. He embraces that.
“I think I did a good job with that,” he said during exit interviews. “With a young team we have that’s talented, I talked to Tyrese (Haliburton) a lot and I felt like as the season got going, he became more aggressive and more in attack mode. I was telling him ‘If you attack, you’re going to open up a lot of other things.’ As the season got going, I feel like I was helping the young guys better every day.”
And before his return to the NBA in December, he wanted to play so bad that he first competed in the G League.
When guard T.J. McConnell suffered a hand injury on Dec. 1 that required surgery and kept him out until the final week of the season, the Pacers lacked energy on the court. They also missed his toughness.
Stephenson was the energizer jolt they needed; he gave the team life on and off the court. The Pacers finished last in attendance this past season. However, each time he checked into games, he received the loudest ovation of anyone.
Stephenson played through the pain as the Pacers completed another injury-filled season and finished with their worst record (25-57) since the 1984-85 season.
Stephenson, 31, becomes an unrestricted free agent in July. There is mutual interest in re-signing the fan favorite, league sources said. However, the front office has a big draft ahead of them first — they own picks 6, 31 and 58 — and several other players to decide on their future.
Playing in 40 games this past season for Indiana, Stephenson averaged 9.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.
For more on Stephenson and his development, listen to my podcast with his skills trainer Rob Blackwell.