Lance Stephenson easily could have feigned indifference.
Instead, he expressed a touch of sadness.
After being passed over last week for the All-Star Game, Stephenson didn’t pretend that it was no big deal. To him, it was. Not for ego purposes, but for validation of his arrival as one the NBA’s best young players.
Three years ago his career nearly ended before it started. Today, he’s the most complete player on what is arguably the NBA’s most complete team.
Yet he’s not going to the All-Star Game as an East reserve. Roy Hibbert is.
“I’m disappointed but happy Roy made it,” Stephenson said after last week’s reserves were announced. “We have goals in this locker room. The All-Star Game means nothing.
“We want to win a championship.”
Moving forward, that is Stephenson’s motivation as the Pacers continue their bid for the NBA title. His contributions are major reasons why they’ve had the league’s best record most of the season.
Increasingly popular with fans, the fourth-year guard is Indiana’s most fiery, energetic and, as the numbers reflect, most efficient player.
During Monday’s 98-79 win against the visiting Orlando Magic, Stephenson collected his team-leading 15th double-double. He leads the NBA with four triple-doubles and has recorded double-doubles in seven of the past nine games.
Moreover, Stephenson is the Pacers’ second-leading scorer (14.2 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (7.3 rpg) and leads them in assists (5.3 apg) and field-goal shooting (50 percent).
In light of those numbers, it’s easy to understand why Stephenson had an expectation of being selected an All-Star. But in light of his relative newness to the East scene, it’s easy to understand why he won’t join better-known teammates Hibbert and Paul George on the East team.
Hibbert and George, who was voted in by fans as a starter, will be making their second All-Star appearances.
“It is nice to be selected, and I want to thank my teammates for helping me to be what I am,” said Hibbert, selected primarily for his defensive qualities. “My heart goes out to Lance. He’s had numbers from the beginning and played well all year.”
Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who will coach the East team, shared in the Pacers’ collective disappointment for Stephenson. But at the same time, Vogel reiterated what the season is about — and it has nothing to do with All-Star nods.
“I’m disappointed for Lance because I know he wants it,” Vogel said. “The All-Star Game is a nice honor, but everybody in this organization is in this season for one reason, and that’s to win a championship.”
Stephenson agreed. At age 23, the All-Star Game can wait. The championship chase cannot.
Nothing is guaranteed beyond this season.
“The All-Star Game means nothing. We want to win a championship,” Stephenson said. “It’s just the All-Star Game. I just want to win real games.”
“I’m going to keep working hard to try and make this team better.”