Lance Stephenson has a problem that really isn't a problem at all.
Upon learning he was passed over for the Eastern Conference's All-Star team, the Indiana Pacers guard was unhappy, frustrated that his breakout season didn't receive a distinction he coveted.
"I'm mad," Stephenson said, per Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star. "I feel like I had my breakout year last year. I showed I can play with anyone on the floor and I felt like this year, I brought a little bit more to my game."
There's something to be said about a player so open and honest and in touch with his mean streak. Plenty of things actually—most of them good.
More than a "little bit" was added to his game. Stephenson has emerged as an electric two-way combo guard for the league-leading Pacers, establishing himself as the team's second-best player.
|Lance Stephenson By The Numbers|
|Season||MPG||PTS||FG%||REBS||ASTS||STLS||Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.||PER|
Regard Roy Hibbert and David West as you wish, but after Paul George, there's Stephenson, the colorful heart and soul of a Pacers team consumed by hopes of home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and winning a championship.
"Team" is the key word here. The Pacers win and lose together. Their success is the result of collective selflessness and harmony. The entire team works as one, toward the same goal.
Deviating from the blueprint that has spearheaded their wildly dominant 2013-14 campaign is dangerous. If one person starts playing for themselves, everything could unravel. And after being deprived of an All-Star appearance, could that wild card be Stephenson, who remains dead set on proving everyone wrong?
"I already had a chip on my shoulder and it made me even worse," he said, via the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy. "Now I’m going to kill everybody who is in front of me. Like I said, whoever made it in front of me or whoever is in my position who people think whose in front of me, I’m definitely going to go after them."
Stephenson's take is both admirable and dangerous. It's scary to envision him playing even better than he already is, but it's equally scary to imagine what may happen if Indy's one-for-all, all-for-one dynamic is threatened by the individual goals of one emotional question mark.
But let's give Stephenson more credit than that.
Though still brash and prone to showboating, he's not the same player Indiana drafted in 2010. His celebrations are just as florid and his emotions just as sweeping, but he's not a ticking time bomb.
Well, that's not entirely true. Stephenson is most definitely a ticking triple-double time bomb just waiting to go off.
Must we forget about that? He leads the league in triple-doubles with four, securing himself a spot in Pacers history:
And ensuring he separates himself from every one of the Eastern Conference's All-Stars:
That fourth triple-double came just after the snub and is not a sign of a player losing focus or staring at anything other than the big picture. It came in a loss, sure, but the thing about triple-doubles is they're tell-tale signs of players doing more than one thing.
Fresh off missing out on an All-Star selection, Stephenson could have tried to hot dog his way to an offensive explosion. Instead, he continued to do what he's done all season—everything.
Nothing changed in a victory over the Brooklyn Nets, when Stephenson went for 14 points on eight shots to go along with four rebounds and seven assists. Give him more credit.
Give the Pacers more credit.
Head coach Frank Vogel, team president Larry Bird and the rest of Indy's organization are the other side of this thing. Vogel, Bird and Stephenson's teammates will let the streaky guard harp on his All-Star slight all he wants, provided it doesn't negatively impact those around him.
Despite what some try to make of certain losses, the Pacers are still locked in. A pair of botched games against the Phoenix Suns and one more against the Denver Nuggets change nothing. The Pacers are still the Pacers, and Stephenson is still Stephenson.
There will be moments that remind us Stephenson isn't a billboard for maturity or gracious winning, but that's been the case all season and, once again, changes nothing.
Just because Stephenson has added a self-serving purpose to his laundry list of priorities doesn't mean he's still not competing for a championship. In a contract year, there's always the danger of a player putting himself before the team.
Look at how that's worked out for Stephenson and the Pacers so far. Kevin Durant and Stephenson are the only two players averaging at least 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game, and Indiana has the NBA's best record.
This All-Star vendetta is no different. Stephenson is playing for the Pacers, a championship and validation—just like he's been doing all year.
"All-Stars is always going to be there," Stephenson said, via Bondy. "If I keep working hard, I’ll get that opportunity and that chance."
Even now, it's business as usual in Indiana, where the Pacers play home to a rising star who has shown he can and will integrate his personal goals into the team's fervid taste for collective success, no matter what they are.
*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.