March 30, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indiana Pacers are bringing back Lance Stephenson.

More than two years after the brash 6-foot-5 guard left in free agency, the Pacers re-signed Stephenson on Thursday - just in time to fill a gaping hole as they try to make a final playoff push. Stephenson is scheduled to appear at a news conference in Indianapolis on Friday afternoon and is expected to make his first game appearance Sunday at Cleveland.

''We're very happy to have Lance back as part of our team,'' president of basketball operations Larry Bird said in a statement released by the team. ''We always knew he wanted to come back here, and we feel now is the right time, not only for the rest of this season, but moving forward.''

Terms of the deal were not provided by the team. Stephenson's listed agent, Alberto Ebanks, did not return repeated messages left by The Associated Press.

The Pacers are hoping Stephenson can breathe life back into a team that has faded in recent weeks. With two straight losses, Indiana fell from a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday into the No. 8 position heading into Thursday night. Chicago, with has an easier closing stretch, is just 1 1/2 games behind Indiana.

Bird and the Pacers already know what Stephenson can do.

Indiana took the former Cincinnati star in the second round of the 2010 draft, and he progressed from bench player to starter to routine triple-double threat. In his first four seasons with Indiana, Stephenson averaged 9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds. In the playoffs, he was even better - posting averages of 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists as he helped the Pacers make consecutive runs to the Eastern Conference finals.

At times, the edge Stephenson played with created problems.

During the second conference finals run, cameras caught Stephenson blowing into the ear of LeBron James - a move that drew criticism from Bird and others.

After losing the series, Stephenson wrote on Twitter: ''I have much respect for LeBron and the heat. This was a great series they deserve it all love to Heat. Want to say that I'm so proud of my teammates we work so hard all year to get to point, Everything is a learning experience and getting better every year love u guys Pacer nation and thanks to all of our Pacer fans love y'all too.''

Less than two months later, Stephenson bolted in free agency and struggled to find a home.

Over the past two-plus seasons, he played for Charlotte, the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis, New Orleans and most recently Minnesota. As recently as last month, there was even talk he could join James in Cleveland.

Instead, the Pacers gave Stephenson another chance in a time of need.

Indiana opened a roster spot Wednesday by waiving injured guard Rodney Stuckey. Two other key backups - forward Glenn Robinson III (sore left calf) and center Al Jefferson (sprained left ankle) - are not expected back before next week and Jefferson could be out until the final week of the regular season.

So Bird turned to Stephenson.

''We look forward to having a long relationship with him,'' Bird said, ''because we know what he can bring to our franchise, both on and off the court.''

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