ORLANDO — For a player whose nickname in high school was Born Ready, Lance Stephenson has been anything but in two seasons with the Pacers.
So now entering what could be a make-or-break (non-guaranteed contract) year, Stephenson is back at the Air Tran Orlando Pro Summer League to prove that he should stick around and made a statement with 28 points and seven assists in a win over the Thunder.
“I’m here to do anything I can to get better as a player and help my team,” Stephenson said. “I’m working on pick-and-rolls, coming off and hitting my jump shot and trying to get my teammates involved.
“What the coaches have told me is they want me to be more like a point guard, be a leader and take control of situations.”
Pacers’ assistant Dan Burke, who is coaching the summer league bunch, says it’s an all-around improvement to Stephenson’s approach on and off the floor that could make a difference. The most notable thing he did in the playoffs this season was giving the “choke” sign to LeBron James after a missed free throw.
“Lance is trying to improve in all aspects of everything it takes to be an NBA player,” Burke said. “It’s more than just things like shooting and passing and handling the ball that go into making a successful career.
“It’s mainly been a numbers game working against him so far. In that short season without a training camp, Lance got a chance to play early. But when we picked up a veteran like Leandro Barbosa, who had that experience of winning on a playoff team like Phoenix, it was such a good fit that it made sense to play him.
“With Barbosa in our rotation we made a step from being a playoff team to being a playoff team that could win a round. I think Lance got a chance to sit back and watch the things that guys like Barbosa could and we’re hoping he’ll be able to put those things to us.
“Being a pro is more than just collecting a paycheck. We all want to get paid and be stars and get the rewards. But being a real pro means being a winner and there’s a price to pay for that. That’s the lesson Lance is learning.”