It’s a story that continues to be retold that never ceases to become a warning for young athlete: an athlete in the midst of a breakout season is about to get a big long-term contract, yet immaturity and other antics scare teams away from the athlete seeing the money they deserved.
The playoffs last year served up the J.R. Smith story for Lance Stephenson to be wary of. We witnessed the supposed maturity that Smith exhibited through the regular season melt into the façade it was meant to be. We witnessed the partying, the messy fallout between him and R&B singer Rihanna, and even the backlash that he caught from Stephenson’s old boo, K. Michelle.
It was enough to show that no franchise other than the dysfunctional New York Knicks would ever invest long-term in the circus act that is Smith. Stephenson had a front row seat at that screening, yet still hasn’t heeded any of the messages it taught.
There are a whole lot of things for franchises to love about Lance. He is only 23. He has a body of a stellar NBA player and the height at 6-foot-6 to guard most swingmen in the league. He has a motor that never stops and a vastly improved touch from the outside. His scoring average and field goal percentage has improved every year, yet a lot of GMs are worried about the whispers behind the kid Rucker Park deemed “Born Ready”.
It has been noted that not many of his Indiana Pacers teammates are fans of Stephenson. He already had a tussle with newly-acquired Evan Turner, and Roy Hibbert has been on record multiple times criticizing Stephenson’s love of dribbling the basketball.
Yet, we see an individual brash enough to challenge LeBron James and enigmatic enough to question the vulnerability of Dwyane Wade’s knees. We see a player whose energy can veer from the course of infectious to annoying in a split second. What price will teams determine is the limit for such a player?
That’s the question going into the offseason for arguably the best two-guard on the market who is under 25 years old. Can he overcome the childish antics and develop into a veteran? Or will his quest to be the man derail his own chance for a big payday? If J.R. Smith is the blueprint, I sure hope Lance doesn’t roll snake eyes in free agency.