They call it give and take, and Lance Stephenson has been doing an awful lot of giving lately. That’s what happens when you’ve had a cloud of questionable behavior following your every move since high school. That’s what happens when horrific allegations of violence arise before playing your first NBA game. That’s what happens when you supposedly have a penchant for causing locker-room turmoil. You tend to be required to give in order to make amends for past misdeeds. You tend to need a course in fall-in-line initiation.
It appears Stephenson’s attempts at giving, at changing, have been ultimately genuine. During a lockout-ravaged summer and fall, Lance stayed dutifully in Indiana. He hit any pickup circuit he could, he involved himself heavily in community functions, and he consciously stayed away from known negative influences at home in New York. Most importantly, Lance seemed to enjoy his dabbles into the realm of becoming a professional.
The giving continued on the court. For most of the season he’s had a short role off the bench. He’s tried desperately to play within the team offense. He’s become a surprisingly adequate defender. He’s played nice on the bench and in the locker room. He’s done all of it without a peep of discontent.
The question surfacing now is when will Lance get some of the take? He’s officially lost his spot in the rotation to A.J. Price because of perceived ineffectiveness. I wonder, though, are we mistaking "giving" for ineffectiveness. Has Lance been so preoccupied with fitting in, with re-gaining the trust of the franchise, that on-court performance has become the ultimate sacrifice?
Most would argue Lance’s greatest on-court strength probably isn’t that of being a passive facilitator. It’s probably not playing off the ball, looping around the three-point line. But, during most of his short stints, that’s exactly his on-court persona. He does so willingly, desperately wanting to show his wares as a rehabilitated good soldier.
Eventually, the take needs to happen. It needs to happen so the Pacers can officially know what they have with such a prized prospect. It needs to happen for Lance’s psyche, to convince him that all the giving will eventually net a payback. The take doesn’t need to be a starting role and 35 minutes a night. All it needs to be is some renewed freedom; an exploitation of his strengths. Let him be aggressive with the ball. Let him attack. Let him play little bit like Lance. Remind him why he’s "the most talented player on the team." With all the giving, he deserves some loosening of the reins.
As the trade deadline nears, the Pacers will assuredly be in the market for some scoring options off of the bench. With oodles of cap space, they’ll probably find their long-awaited OJ Mayo-type, and they’ll probably find it rather cheaply. If they don’t, though, it might just be a good idea to revisit their own roster for that missing piece. It may already be there in the form of one of New York’s most prolific scoring legends. Give him the chance. Give him the freedom. He just might take it.