They say maturity comes with age and experience. That may not be the case for Lance Stephenson. The 23-year-old has had his fair share of downs over his young career and for some reason he’s not learning from any poor judgement he makes.
Over the 2014 NBA Playoffs it felt as if the Indiana Pacers guard had been fined after every game for his antics. Be it flopping, post-game comments or antics on the court like blowing in LeBron James ear. Stephenson still has the talents to be a very good two guard in the league, but his action are hurting his reputation, and the value he had entering the NBA playoffs seems to have lessened as he prepares to be a restricted free agent this summer.
Stephenson averaged career highs this past season in almost every category. He averaged 13.8 points per game, 7.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and shot 35% from three point range. Stephenson is one of the best restricted free agents on the market this summer, but not many teams will be rushing to offer him a contract this summer due to his antics. You’ll pay a guy with skills of Stephenson to play for your team, but you just don’t want him in your locker room. So who should or will take a chance on Stephenson?
Option 1: Lance Stephenson stays with the Pacers
Stephenson was drafted and groomed by the Indiana Pacers. A 2010 second round pick by the team, Stephenson has spent all four years of his career with the Pacers. He only appeared in 12 games in his rookie season, but this past season he played and started in 78 games. Through the Pacers last two playoff runs Stephenson has been a huge part and will probably continue to be a part of the teams bright future.
After losing to the Miami Heat in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals, Pacers forward Paul George was asked if he wanted Stephenson on his side next year, and the answer wasn’t very convincing that he did. “I mean, I don’t know”. Those words out of the Franchise player. If George isn’t sure he wants Stephenson back should team President Larry Bird want him back? After the whole blowing in Lebron’s ear, Bird had to give Stephenson a talking too and it didn’t seem to work as he kept it up in the following game. Although, this time it wasn’t as bad.
All signs point to the Pacers locker room not needing or wanting Stephenson, but the team that steps onto the court really needs Stephenson’s presence. The Pacers already have a very weak bench, losing Stephenson would just weaken their starting lineup. As much as the locker room could do without the 23 year old, the Pacers need Stephenson back next year.
Option 2: Stephenson goes running with the Bulls
It’s time for the Bulls to make a ballsy move. The Miami Heat are so good that their ballsy moves are minor; Greg Oden. The Spurs are so smart that their ballsy moves are for bench players that may or may not workout; Marco Belinelli. The Bulls have yet to take a leap into the ballsy stage and Stephenson could be it.
Stephenson could help the Bulls with energy and scoring if Derrick Rose doesn’t return to his original form. There may not be a starting job waiting for Stephenson in Chicago, but there are massive minutes off the bench that will come with a lot of touches. The Bulls need to add some swagger and someone who can guard top stars in the league. It takes pressure of Rose, when he does return. It’s time for Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf to write a cheque that could help the Bulls get over the hump.
Option 3: Lance heads to the Hornets Nest
Stephenson is probably the last guy Michael Jordan wants to sign and deal with, but it’s time for the Bobcats to enter the free agency market and focus on becoming a playoff team. After an obvious first round exist this year to the Heat, the Bobcats aren’t far off from becoming a top team in the Eastern Conference.
Jordan might not want to deal with Stephenson and he doesn’t have to. Signing Stephenson will prove how much Jordan trusts his head coach Steve Clifford. Jordan won’t have to say or do anything but sign Stephenson and trust that Clifford can help Stephenson grow, not just as a player but as a person.
Al Jefferson had a great first year with the Hornets and has quickly taken the Franchise under his wing and Stephenson could be Jefferson’s time to shine as a leader. The Bobcats need to make some signings this summer. Like it or not, Stephenson could be one of their better off-season options.
Option 4: A New York State of Mind
Phil Jackson isn’t scared of anyone, so Stephenson could easily see himself in a Knicks uniform. Jackson needs to make moves to convince Carmelo Anthony to stay and if the forward does opt into next season a guy like Stephenson can really boost the Knicks roster.
It’s sort of a sign and trade in the making. Jackson could over pay Stephenson so the Pacers don’t match their offer, and with the Knicks low on cap space, they would need to make this a sign and trade, which then helps the Pacers acquire bench pieces. The Knicks might not have much to offer the Pacers in a sign and trade, but losing Stephenson for nothing won’t help the Pacers either. Jackson could really back the Pacers into a wall while helping himself out.
Option 5: Making it Rain, with Thunder and Lightning
With Thabo Sefolosha hitting the market this summer the Thunder are in need of a shooting guard who can fill his void if they decide not to bring him back. Jeremy Lamb isn’t ready to make the leap. It’s also unclear if the Thunder are ready to move Russell Westbrook to the shooting guard position. Either way Stephenson could really help the Thunder who are in desperate need of upgrading their roster. With Kevin Durant hitting the open market in 2016 the Thunder’s window of creating a championship roster around the MVP could be closing.
Option 6: Stephenson Showdown at the Alamo
Two words; Greg Popovich.
The Spurs don’t need Stephenson on their roster with Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard at the wing, but it would be really fun to watch Popovich coach a guy like Stephenson. The Spurs probably won’t be front runners for Stephenson and probably won’t even bother offering him a contract unless he’s left on the market late in the summer.
Imagine Stephenson as a free agent entering August. His asking price will drop and he won’t be looking for a long-term deal, which puts the Spurs in a good spot. Not only would Stephenson’s game be used greatly in the Spurs system, but under Popovich, Stephenson might actually mature.
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