Stephenson would just as soon come off the bench
One would think that Lance Stephenson would have felt at least a twinge of pleasure when he learned Danny Granger will be out for the first few weeks of the season with a muscle strain. After all, that guarantees him a place in the starting lineup for awhile, and perhaps for the season if things go well — a nice perk for a player in a contract year.
What he felt, however, was a twinge of disappointment. For him it’s not when you play or with whom you play, it’s how you get to play.
“I was looking forward to seeing how I’d look with second unit, when everything goes through me,” Stephenson said following Monday’s practice. “The ball is in my hands much more. I feel I have the opportunity to set people up or look for my own shot.”
Stephenson, though, won’t be moping over having to start when the Pacers open the season against Orlando Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Either way, he’ll play a lot, and no doubt play some with the reserves as well. It’s a measure of his progress that in last year’s season-opener in Toronto he was the 10th player to get into the game, and played 12 ½ minutes. This season, whether Granger is playing or not, and whether Granger is starting or not, he’ll be getting starter minutes.
“If Lance ends up coming off the bench it’s not because he lost his starting job, it’s because that’s the strategy,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Lance is one of our best players to go after the opposing team’s second unit. It would be more about solidifying the bench.”
Starter or not, Stephenson doesn’t lack for optimism heading into the season. He told his teammates in the locker room that he expects a 10-0 start to the season, which would be quite the upgrade from last season’s sputtering beginning that produced an 11-11 record.
The question hovering over the Pacers now, particularly Stephenson, is whether Granger’s latest injury is related to the problems with his knee, which underwent surgery on April 4. Granger allowed Monday that the weakened muscles around the knee might have contributed to the muscle strain in his calf. Vogel, however, doesn’t believe it’s the indication of an ongoing ripple effect that prevents Granger from ever getting close to his status of two years ago.
“It’s in the same leg, so I guess that’s a possibility, but (members of the training staff) say it’s probably unrelated,” Vogel said.
“It’s not that big a deal. The knee is doing great. It’s no different than Paul George getting a calf strain and being out for a couple of weeks. It’s a short-term injury. We plan on having Danny back.”