If you have followed the Indiana Pacers this season, then you know that one of the storylines involves Lance Stephenson and where he will play next season. Stephenson will become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, and the budding star will have his pick of where to play. But his flaws that the Pacers overlook could become a problem with another team.
Stephenson was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY where he became a basketball icon at the age of 12. In high school, he won multiple city championships, was named Player of the Year twice by the New York Daily News, was the only non-senior to be selected to the USA Today All-USA boys basketball team in 2007, and finished his career as the all-time leading scorer in New York City high school history.
During his teen years, Stephenson became a fixture at the infamous Rucker Park. He’d take on anyone, from NBA veterans to Rucker Park legends. He even earned his nickname “Born Ready” by dominating everyone he played against. But all that hype and success went to his head, causing a slight attitude problem.
It’s no secret that Stephenson is a hothead, both on and off the court. When he tried out for the United States under-18 national team, he was cut because of chemistry issues, something that is easy to understand. He survived his freshman year at Cincinnati without any incidents, but months after being drafted by the Pacers, he was arrested for third-degree assault after allegedly shoving his girlfriend down a flight of stairs.
His arrest couldn’t have come at a worst time. The Pacers were still in the midst of fixing their public image that had been ruined six years earlier in the infamous brawl with the Detroit Pistons. Luckily for Stephenson, Pacers president Larry Bird is a believer in giving second chances. In an interview with Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth, Bird explained how he sent Stephenson home for the summer and basically told him they wouldn’t tolerate that behavior.
Fast forward four years later and Stephenson has become the starting shooting guard for the Pacers and has started living up to his Rucker Park nickname. But he still has his rough-around-the-edges moments, thankfully all on the court. The big difference now is that his coaches, teammates and bosses all understand that’s it’s just Lance being Lance.
And that’s where the potential issue lies. The Pacers are used to Stephenson’s antics during practice and games, but would another team be as lax about it?
Sure, Stephenson is inching his way closer to Paul George and Lebron James stat wise — 14.2 points, 5.3 assists and 7.0 rebounds — but would that be enough for teams to overlook his outbursts? On any night, you can get unstoppable Stephenson or the enigmatic version. Teams can overlook issues if there’s consistency, but because Stephenson can be flustered easily, his consistency isn’t always there.
There’s no doubt that Stephenson will have a long line of suitors come free agency. His athletic ability can’t be taught and he has a court vision that few have. Someone will take a chance, throw max money at him, and tell him to be their savior, even if it’s just to take him from the Pacers. Not everyone has the mentality to be a franchise player and at this point in his career, it doesn’t seem like Stephenson possesses that needed mentality.
Staying with Indiana for years to come seems to be the common sense answer when someone asks what Stephenson will do in free agency, and he’s even said he will stay here. But everyone knows how much money talks. Replacing Stephenson would be tough enough for the Pacers, but replacing the Pacers would be even tougher for Stephenson.