The end of the season and playoffs for the Indiana Pacers come with a bad taste in their mouths over getting knocked out despite having home court advantage. The antics and defiance of Lance Stephenson didn’t really help, as the shooting guard hits free agency and suddenly doesn’t look like a must-keep as he probably did seven days ago.
Stephenson came into the league with Paul George back in 2010. A second round pick, he has developed slowly but surely. While still far from being a star at the position due to his inconsistency on both ends of the floor, Stephenson is a great all-around player, averaging 13.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists during the playoffs. He is a decent shooter and a fierce competitor. But all of a sudden, he’s also a liability and a distraction.
Larry Bird and Stephenson spoke after he drew too much attention to him in game 5 – the blowing in the ear moment standing above the rest. Stephenson said he respects Bird and would comply with the request to start acting more like a basketball player. Words are one thing, actions another. Stephenson got called for a flagrant foul, hitting Norris Cole in the face. He didn’t stop badgering LeBron James – cupping his face, falling on him with intent and other lovely moments of the dirty side of the NBA.
Stephenson made $3.3 million total in four years with the Pacers, and obviously wants to get paid. The Pacers have a max contract given to Paul George and one to Roy Hibbert. Lance Stephenson isn’t a max deal kind of player, but he won’t be playing for peanuts anymore. His antics over the last few days might have cost him the love and adoration in-house and maybe other teams, but he is still going to be one of the more sought after players when it’s time to chase free agents.
It’s decision time. Luis Scola has a nonguaranteed $4.8 million option for next season, which means the Pacers will have between $8 million to $12 million to spend on players before hitting luxury tax. Larry Bird said he has no intention of hitting that mark. If Stephenson goes somewhere else, that money might not be enough to sign someone who gives them the same as him, which obviously factors into the decision.
Stephenson is probably hoping to get around $10 million a season. A four year deal with $36 million or $42 million at the end of it. The Pacers are going to think long and hard before committing that kind of money to a guy that showed some disturbing signs in the last couple of games, making his talent seem less important when the personality issue on this team took front stage during the playoffs.