Lance Stephenson hopes for a good reception in Indy ‘homecoming’

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Hornets guard Lance Stephenson speaks to the media before his first game back in Indianapolis after leaving the Pacers this summer.

INDIANAPOLIS – If he’s still bothered by negative crowd reactions, then many would be surprised.

His aggressive play and occasional over-the-top antics over his five-year NBA career have made Lance Stephenson a popular target for fan’s boos or other  gestures against him.

Those don’t bother the guard.

Not when he wore the yellow of the Pacers or now the teal of the Hornets. But when he dons the latter Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, things are a bit different.

“It’s like a homecoming,” said the former Indiana guard after his new team’s shootaround in Indianapolis Wednesday morning.

That’s appropriate. He did spend his first four years in the NBA with the Pacers going from a little-used rookie guard to one of the main pieces of a team that made back-to-back Eastern Conference Championship Series. Stephenson learned much of what he knows about the NBA from team president Larry Bird and head coach Frank Vogel which allowed him to sign a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract with Charlotte this offseason.

While that fact will certainly be on Pacers’ fans mind when their team faces Stephenson in a different uniform Wednesday, the former fan favorite is really hoping this crowd won’t take after the others in the NBA.

“Definitely it would hurt,” said Stephenson when asked if he would feel hurt if the fans booed him tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I’m on the other team so if I hear booing I won’t be upset because I know how the fans embraced me here and they loved me here. I won’t be mad if they boo me but I’d be a little bit disappointed.”

Talk of the crowd was a major talking point of Stephenson’s ten-minute media session-and the guard couldn’t say enough about the fans of Indianapolis. As his time on the floor increased Stephenson was often serenaded with chants of his nickname “Born Ready” and big plays were greeted with loud cheers–a far cry from his reception elsewhere.

“I played off the crowd when I played here. The crowd got me into it,” said Stephenson. “It was fun playing with the fans here because they were really into the game and they really make you go hard by the way they cheer.”

From afar Stephenson is still a fan of the franchise and said there are “no hard feelings” between himself, the team or Bird who helped the guard grow into a strong NBA starter. After spending his first two seasons as a light reserve, Stephenson cracked the starting lineup in 2012-2013 when Danny Granger was lost for most of the season with a knee injury.

Stephenson averaged 8.8 points a game while getting just under four rebounds and three assists a game as the Pacers made a run to the Eastern Conference Finals where they fell to the eventual NBA Champion Heat. He burst onto the NBA scene the next year when he became a full-time starter and boosted his scoring average 13.8 points a game as his rebounds (7.2) and assists (4.6) also saw a major increase.

When Stephenson hit free agency, the Pacers immediately tried to retain his services, offering five years and $44 million to the guard right as free agency started. But he opted for a shorter deal–three years and $27 million–to go to Charlotte.

“(Indianapolis) is where I grew up. This is where I learned the game–NBA basketball. There’s no hard feelings,” said Stephenson, who said he hoped to talk to Bird at some point during his return to Indianapolis.

He actually spent part of Tuesday with former teammate Paul George as they watched a pair of college basketball games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But while a part of him still remains in the Circle City, Stephenson has moved onto his next challenge of helping the Hornets grow into a contender. So far this year he’s averaging 9.5 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists for a Charlotte team that has started the year 4-7.

Stephenson admits that it’s not “his team” but rather he’s trying find a way to fit in with both the old and new of this rebuilding franchise.

“It’s tough learning a new system and a new defensive scheme and just learning my new teammates,” said Stephenson. “I’ve got guys out there helping me and trying to get me better with the offense and I think I’m coming along.”

But for one night in the process, he’s coming with good spirits to his first NBA home. He hopes the crowd will have the same sentiments.

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