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INDIANAPOLIS – Did one call from LeBron, and perhaps some bitterness towards his former employer, lead Lance Stephenson to leaving the Pacers again?
It sounds like it, after listening to Kevin Pritchard explain the Pacers’ stance in wanting Stephenson to return, even though the team declined Lance’s $4.36 team option last month.
Pritchard says the Pacers came back and offered Lance a $4.5 million deal after a few days of free agency.
But, at that point, after LeBron had called, and following Lance being upset at Pritchard’s comments (in regards to Pritchard saying that Lance was sometimes “the best player on the other team”) as to why the team initially declined the team option, any possibility of a return had passed.
Lance was heading to the Lakers.
“We were talking to him. We stayed in constant communication with him…” Pritchard says of the conversations with Lance early in free agency. “There was an opportunity for him to come back.
“(But) we understand that he really wanted to go with the Lakers. It’s sort of a dream and I think when LeBron calls you up and wants you, it’s hard to turn that down.”
Pritchard, who met the media last week, again repeated the volatility Lance brought to the court.
“Lance gave us some great years,” the team president began. “We loved Lance. We love Lance on the court. We love Lance off the court. Sometimes he was the best player on our team. Sometimes he was the best player on the other team…”
That comment rubbed Stephenson the wrong way, which the guard expressed on social media.
When Indiana tried to get back involved with Lance, it was too late, even if the offer matched what the Lakers were also throwing out there.
“It’s a function of the cap,” Pritchard explained of the reason Indiana first declined Lance’s team option, which was due two days before free agency started. “We opened up the cap space. We had his exact amount, $4.5 (million), in what is called the cap space mid-level. We told his agent, ‘You’ve got that. That’s all yours. We went from $4.4 to $4.5 and you can always pick that up.’
“We had stayed in constant communication and his agent came to me and said, ‘He wants to go to L.A. LeBron recruited him. I don’t think there’s a way you can keep him, but you can try.’
“We wish him nothing but the best. At the end of the day, he chose L.A. over us. It wasn’t like we didn’t want him back.”
Of course, with the addition of Tyreke Evans, it would have been difficult to see Lance being a necessary re-signing anyways.
Stephenson did thank Pritchard and the Pacers for his time in Indiana, where the guard’s career began and remains the only successful NBA stint for him in 6 NBA stops.