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the opposing team's best wing on defense, and had the ability to take over the game for stretches when Paul George was off the floor. Only 23 years old at the time, Lance was a rising star.
After that season, the Pacers interestingly decided to move on from Stephenson rather than offer him a lucrative extension, and Lance signed a huge 3-year deal with Charlotte to be the fulcrum of their offense and provide some much-needed perimeter defense next to Kemba Walker. Needless to say, that didn't work as planned. Since he was being paid like a star ($27 million over 3 years was big money at the time), Lance began to act like one. He sacrificed defense for offense and began to jack up three-pointers at an unprecedented rate for a guy whose bread-and-butter was the mid-range. In 2014-15, Lance submitted the worst 3-point shooting season of all time for someone with over 100 attempts, making only a 17.1% (!!!) of his shots from downtown. Needless to say, things didn't work out in Charlotte and he was traded to the Clippers less than a year after signing his deal.
Things didn't change for Lance in L.A. He made it eight months with the Clippers before being released, and then he played 26 games in Memphis before the Grizzlies declined to pick up the embattled wing's option for this season. Finally, he flamed out in New Orleans this fall after being cut when he suffered a groin injury six games into the season. What once looked like a promising career now appeared to be on its very last legs.
Enter the Minnesota Timberwolves and Tom Thibodeau. After losing shooting guard Zach LaVine for the rest of the season due to a knee injury, the Wolves were thin on wing talent and also needed another veteran voice in the locker room. As the coach of the Bulls in 2013-14, Thibs had to deal with the prime version of Stephenson on a routine basis. He knows that Stephenson is hungry for one more legitimate shot, and signed the mercurial wing to a 10-day contract. “You know he has it in him,” Thibodeau said. “Now we've got to get it out of him again.” Stephenson had flourished in the rigid, disciplined system Larry Bird and Frank Vogel ran in Indiana, and coach Thibodeau runs a similar program here in Minnesota.
Stephenson is saying the right things. “My job is to work hard, prove my point, and show everybody I belong in this league.” “I think it's a great opportunity. There are a lot of young, great players. I feel like I can come in with some veteran experience and try to help the team.”
The Wolves had nothing to lose by making this deal. If Stephenson flops, he's gone after the 10-day deal expires. If it works out, they got a versatile veteran wing who is only 26 years old for essentially pocket change. The early returns are relatively promising. In three games, Stephenson is averaging 15 minutes, 4.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, and an assist. Most importantly, he's limiting turnovers, not shooting threes, and competing on defense. In related news, the Wolves are 2-1 in those three games, including a win over the playoff-bound Raptors where Stephenson shut down All-Star Kyle Lowry down the stretch, and a 28-point win over the Bulls. So far, so good for the Lance Stephenson era.
Wolves Sign Embattled Wing Lance Stephenson
As recently as three years ago, Lance Stephenson was known as one of the best two-way shooting guards in the entire NBA. In the 2013-14 season, he averaged 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists for a Pacers team that earned the #1 Eastern Conference playoff seed over the loaded Miami Heat and took the apex version of LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Co. to the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals. Lance was a sparkplug for that Pacers team - he facilitated the offense, guarded
By Andy Thayer