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Waiting On Stephen Graham

Stephen Graham has played in 21 games for the Pacers this year, mostly spot minutes here and there or garbage time late in games. Twice he's played significant minutes, against Sacramento and Toronto, and both times he raised the energy level on the court and was quite fun to watch.

Throughout the tumultuous middle portion of the season, I continually called for Stevie to get more playing time. My thinking was that the Pacers were due, for one thing, and maybe if Stevie was given an extended look he'd come out of nowhere and give the team an unexpected boost, kind of like Carl Landry did in mid-season for the Houston Rockets.

The opportunity for Graham never surfaced as the Pacers brought in Flip Murray to provide some point guard help when it was apparent Jamaal Tinsley was done for the year. Now, with the return of Jermaine O'Neal, Stevie is suited and booted in a coat and tie for the remainder of the year.

While he was still on the active roster, I spoke with Stevie about his role on the team and the fact that he never knows when the rare opportunity for playing time will arise. Since he's trying to establish himself as an NBA player he has no choice but to stay ready.

"One of the main things I come in here and do is focus on preparing myself in practice, so then if my number's called in the game, I'm ready to go out there and do what I usually do."

What Stevie usually does is go to work on the court. He sprints the floor, uses his athleticism to defend and hit the boards, and never hesitates to take an open shot, often times knocking 'em down. To date, his shooting percentages are solid making 58% of FGs, 50% of 3PTs, and 75% of FTs.

Maybe the course this season took remains the best thing for Stevie. After a full year with the Pacers he's shown he will work hard for the team and will be even more ready to contribute next year. It's possible an extended look this year wouldn't have worked out and stunted his developing NBA game. With Stevie's contract running out at the end of the year, he could be a valuable, known commodity for the Pacers to re-sign if they decide to move some other, more expensive players on the roster. While his status is uncertain, Stevie would like to return.

"No, that's yet to be determined. That's up to the coaches and management, Larry Bird and all those guys. I'm hoping they bring me back for next year, but you never know with this business, it's crazy."

One thing working in Graham's favor is his athletic game. Defense has been a problem for the Pacers this year and that is something Stevie can bring. Plus, he seems like a solid fit for Jim O'Brien's system with his willingness to get out on the break and fill the lane. The problem this year has simply been a log jam of experienced talent in front of him.

"I think my skill set is pretty good. I know I'm working within the minutes that have been determined for me. Right now I'm just being patient, biding my time, we're trying to fight for minutes between all these guys (looking around at Flip Murray and Kareem Rush). It's kind of hard right now, but I'm a patient guy I know my time is due."

Hopefully that time will be here in Indiana next year. Don't get me wrong, I'm not projecting an All-Star caliber player here. But great teams have reliable, versatile role players that can really make the machine hum. Someone like Bruce Bowen for the Spurs is a player whose game continued to develop throughout his career to where he became a key cog for a championship team. Guys who just go to work everyday, aren't high maintenance but produce when called on.

That description could very well fit Stephen Graham in a few years. For now, life in the NBA isn't so bad, so the motivation to work hard to both stay in the league AND earn the dream of consistent minutes keeps Stevie grinding. With the work he puts in, he knows when opportunity finally knocks, he'll be ready to burst through the door.

"Oh, yeah. Always."