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Source: Pacers sign Lance Stephenson to a rest-of-season contract
After signing four 10-day contracts with the Pacers, the electrifying guard will finish the season in Indy.
Lance Stephenson signed a rest-of-season contract on Thursday to finish the season with the Pacers, a league source told Fieldhouse Files.
The 31-year-old guard was due for a new contract after his second standard 10-day contract expired after Feb. 2. A player may not sign more than two standard 10-day contracts with the same team in a season.
“This is a blessing,” Stephenson said last month after he scored 30 points, including 20 straight to end the first quarter, in his return to Gainbridge Fieldhouse. “I just never gave up, always stuck with it and believed in myself.”
After playing in China and being out of the NBA the past two seasons, Stephenson first signed a 10-day hardship contract with the Atlanta Hawks due to the familiarity with former Pacers head coach Nate McMillan.
That expired and then Stephenson returned to Indiana — where he wants to be — on Jan. 1, signed to a 10-day hardship contract because they had several players in the health and safety protocols. That’s different than a standard 10-day and has been essential for the NBA to carry on despite hundreds of players and coaches entering protocols and being away from their teams for at least a week.
This is where it could have gotten interesting for the Pacers.
Because center Domantas Sabonis is currently in the protocols, the front office could have chosen to sign Stephenson to another 10-day contract via the hardship exception until Sabonis returned. Teams can use the hardship exception as long as at least one player is in the protocols, a team source confirmed.
That would have been good enough for Stephenson to play on Friday against the Bulls and pay him through the weekend, but then Sabonis is expected to return. The trade deadline is in one week — Thursday, Feb. 10 at 3 p.m. ET — so that’s why the Pacers considered doing it, along with 10-day hardship deals not counting against the tax. It would have kept one roster spot open and given them more flexibility leading into a week of uncertainty.
Finally signing Stephenson for the rest of the season is best. It could have cost Stephenson money if he had gotten injured, and he’s their best option at point guard.
Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. McConnell are still sidelined with injuries, though Brogdon could resume practicing as soon as next week. They’ve taken a cautious approach with his sore right Achilles tendon. This week, Brogdon started playing 1-on-1 against T.J. Warren during practice — which you can watch here.
Here are the financial implications of the Pacers’ deal with Stephenson, who is averaging 9.4 points and 4.2 assists per game.
They now have a full roster: 15 guaranteed contracts and two two-way deals.
The Pacers (19-34) have 29 games remaining, but are bound to be participants in the draft lottery for the second consecutive season.
Stephenson after signing: “Thank you Pacers for believing in me and giving me this opportunity once more! Also to all the pacer fans that comes out and support that blue and gold, y'all are truly amazing! It’s been a long 2yrs of just grinding, believing in myself & Learning from my failures. I manifested that this day will come if I kept putting in the work that was needed off and on the basketball court. There’s a saying “If you want to be proud of yourself, then do things in which you can take pride”! & that’s what I exactly did! So if you have a dream Believe in that!!!!!!! Pacer Nation let’s go.”
Keeping Stephenson is the right move for basketball purposes, and it makes the team more interesting. He easily receives the loudest ovation each time he checks in at home games. He built a special relationship with fans during his two previous stints with the team and that has continued.
Fans appreciate the joy he has for the game and his teammates. He’s fearless, engaging, creative and loves fans right back.
And right now, fans need something to cheer about.
“This is home,” Stephenson has repeated many times. “The game is just more comfortable here, making the right plays and having fun out there. It’s all about having fun, not thinking too much.”
This is not a multi-year deal for Stephenson; it’s only for the rest of the season. So he will play out the season and then become a free agent. He has no intention of ever leaving again. He’s learned that lesson twice.
The Pacers, though, are due to make significant changes to the roster and then will reassess the point guard position, and decide whether Stephenson is part of their future.