Lance Stephenson is currently training in Indianapolis, but would like to be in Orlando to restart the NBA.
The Brooklyn native, who turns 30 in September, was “99 percent” ready to sign an agreement with the Indiana Pacers before the March pandemic, but was not allowed to sign with the league after spending the first part of this season in China, he and his agent said Friday in a joint telephone interview.
“Yes, of course, I wanted to play in Orlando,” said Stephenson.
Reggie Brown, his agent with Priority Sports, said Stephenson was on the verge of signing a new Pacer deal in March.
“We were in serious conversations about a return to Pacers for the third time,” said Brown. “We were offered buyout money from the team in China by the Pacers and we got 99 percent. And then the pandemic occurred, and the NBA decided that no foreign player could participate in the return of the 22-team bubble. They would only take players who played last season or this season in the NBA and / or G League. “
Stephenson averaged 26.7 points and 7.4 rebounds with Liaoning Flying Leopards, with whom he signed an annual $ 4 million deal last summer. But he returned to the United States on January 24 when the Chinese Basketball Association was suspended after the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, a week before his return was scheduled after a spring break at the end of the regular season. The league resumed play on June 20.
Stephenson was one of many American players under contract in China who returned to the United States because of the virus, but Brown said he was no longer contractually obliged with the Leopards. Chasson Randle, Jeremy Lin, Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson were also in that group of American players in China.
“Anyone who has participated in Europe [or overseas], would not have allowed to play [in the NBA], which we understand, security is paramount, “said Brown.
“It’s unfortunate because Lance was in a really, really good place physically and mentally, probably the best version of himself I’ve seen since I got involved with him. I really think the Pacers would have benefited from it and I think it would have been a home run, to return there for the third time. “
Stephenson, who was known as “Born Ready” when he starred at Brooklyn Lincoln High School before a successful year in Cincinnati, last played in the NBA with the Lakers in 2019. He has an average career of 8.6 points , 5.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 508 career games. He is perhaps best known for blowing into LeBron James’ ear during a playoff game between the Miami Heat and Pacers in 2014.
He is currently training in Indianapolis in hopes of a return to the NBA, ideally with the Pacers, for the 2020-21 season which should start in December, probably on a bubble.
“My goal is only to get back in shape, stay at work, be ready for next season,” said Stephenson.
Stephenson has said he is open to playing abroad, but his goal is to return to the NBA.
“Lance 100% deserves to be in the NBA as a spin guy, not just on a team,” said Brown. “Whatever role he had played in the NBA in the future, he would have accepted it but it certainly belonged to the NBA. It is not even close.
“It is an incredible version of himself. His jump shot has improved tremendously. He’s really throwing the ball very well, and I think it was the only missing piece to have a well-rounded game to play like the teams are playing now. You basically have to have that three-ball and he got it and he can defend multiple positions. He can play one, two or three and he can play four balls similar to Draymond Green, but I think it will be a better offensive version of Draymond Green. “
Brown would like to see Stephenson retire with the Pacers.
“I really think this Pacer thing would have worked out great for him to finish his career there,” he said.
“We went to a Pacers game against New Orleans before the pandemic and I couldn’t believe Lance’s welcome. He was really very sincere and genuine and I think he has a home there and I think he can really help. I think he brings something different to the table and I think he understands better now from the team point of view what is expected of him and I think he could end his career there. “
Stephenson saw the NBA resume matches Thursday night with James and the Lakers against the Clippers and the Pelicans against Jazz.
“I’ve seen the games,” he said. “They seem different but only being able to play and compete is always a blessing for me. I feel like in any situation, I can play in any type of condition. “
When asked which social messaging he would wear on his shirt, Stephenson didn’t want to choose just one.
“I would definitely wear all the messages on the shirts,” he said. “I feel that we need such things during this time with what’s going on.”
Brown added: “I’m sure of it [Stephenson] he would come up with something unique and different. “