Posted Aug 20 2010 9:20AM
The summer trade designed to push the Pacers into the future was about a minute old when something happened to dig up the team's ugly past.
At a time when the franchise deserved credit for adding a much-needed piece, the Pacers were listening to disgruntled fans wondering if the team's image of hoarding troublemakers was slowly creeping its way back into the picture.
From Darren Collison, point guard savior ... to guard Lance Stephenson, arrested on assault, menacing and harassment and essentially accused of being a bully. That's how the Pacers' summer went.
Maybe everyone in Indiana should take a deep breath for a few months. Stephenson deserves his day in court. That will arrive Oct. 19, when the second-round pick will appear to address charges that he roughed up the mother of his child. Until then, there's no sense jumping to one conclusion or another. He deserves as much, and so do the Pacers. He could be completely innocent, as his people are saying, or he might be guilty as sin.
And we all strongly suspect what'll happen if he sinned.
We suspect Stephenson's sneakers will hit the pavement faster than you can say "The Malice at the Palace" because the Pacers have gone to great lengths to restore their reputation within the community. They're not about to go Back There again. Say this about the last few years: It hasn't been pretty on the court. But out on the streets, there has been a noticeable absence of Pacers being kicked out of nightclubs, visiting the local precinct to have their pictures taken, packing heat and throwing roundhouse rights. Now you know why Larry Bird said Stephenson's arrest was "very disappointing to the Pacers' franchise and to me personally."
Bird, David Moray and ownership have taken a strong stance against any and all knucklehead incidents. Which is only the right thing to do, when your franchise spent the last few years spiraling from the worst fight in league history. Rather than feed a notion (true or false) that the club was a haven for misguided souls, the Pacers steered clear of the malcontents, even at the expense of winning. At least until a few months ago.
That's when they looked up from their Draft boards and saw Stephenson, as talented as he was troubled, sitting there like a lost puppy. Second-round picks are used for these very reasons, for times when a player's stock was damaged by injury or issues. And because the Pacers are in the business of winning games ... well, you really can't blame them for rolling the dice on Stephenson, who does have gifts.
You can, however, question why they gave him a two-year contract, even if he was a revelation in the summer league. Especially given his history.
He was accused of groping a teenaged girl while in high school, and getting into a fight with a teammate. There was other, less serious stuff, like developing a reputation for being selfish both in high school and his short college career. At 19, Stephenson had his red flags to bear, and if he couldn't beat his man off the dribble or play with abandon, then he'd be making a living in some other field right now. Since the Pacers, like all other NBA teams, are in the talent business, then yes, somebody was going to give him a shot. Players can mature, can't they? Didn't that happen in a hurry to Caron Butler, who had his own run-ins with the law as a teenager?
Yes, in cases such as Stephenson's, teams take a chance and then hope the light bulb goes on and the player wises up and realizes what's at stake. Some do, others don't. Happens all the time.
Stephenson came to summer camp and, at least initially, put any fears on hold when he showed promise in the summer league. With the Pacers ready to move on to a new identity once their handful of bad contracts vanish next summer, Stephenson was in their plans. And those plans were polished with the trade for Collison, who has the stuff to be the team's point guard of the present and future.
Instead, Stephenson will come to camp next month with a cloud over his head, if the charges aren't dropped before then. The Pacers should wait until he gets his day in court, but act swiftly if that day turns dark.
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