If you paid attention to this year’s NBA Eastern Conference Finals, you saw and heard plenty about Lance Stephenson. Stephenson is a good basketball player. He has an impressive skill set. He has a strong handle on the ball. He has a tenacious defensive mindset. He has a polarizing on-court personality. He has a passion for getting in the head and under the skin of his opponent. And as of the final buzzer of last night’s Game 6, he has a decision to make.
Stephenson’s Indiana Pacers showed heart in Game 5 of their series against the Miami Heat, and yielded some hope for a decisive Game 7. The Pacers built a small lead to open the first quarter of Game 6… before spending the last 42 minutes getting absolutely dominated. Needless to say, the Pacers did not force a Game 7 and the Heat are on to their fourth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals.
The season is over for Indiana, a team that made moves before and during this NBA season specifically designed to help them get past the Heat in the playoffs. Obviously, that wasn’t in the cards, and now Stephenson finds himself face to face with the free-agent market.
His antics in the Pacers’ most recent playoff series — talking more than was probably necessary, obnoxiously intruding on Heat huddles, putting his hand on LeBron James‘ face, and famously (infamously?) blowing into James’ ear — have been a major story around the sports world.
Stephenson’s behavior has been discussed ad nauseam on television, over the radio and around the water cooler (pardon the cliché), and the big question to this point has been: Is it working? As in, is Stephenson actually affecting the performance of the Heat players, namely James? Miami answered that question in resounding fashion in Game 6, completely overwhelming the Pacers with a relentless onslaught.
Now his antics lead to a new question: Do teams want to deal with him? It’s no secret that his own teammates, coach and owner have not been thrilled with Stephenson’s actions, though none of them could complain about his postseason play. In truth, the talent Stephenson has put on display during these playoffs should warrant a long list of teams and deals for him to consider during this offseason, but his off-center, even belligerent approach to the game could cheat his abilities out of the consideration they deserve.
Before any of this even happened, the Dallas Mavericks had given plenty of indication that they were not interested in the free agent to be. However, that was also before Stephenson’s star really began to shine throughout the Pacers’ run in the playoffs. So which way will the scale tip at the end of all this? The safe bet is that the Mavericks will stick with their original stance, which was to stay away from Stephenson, but there are reasons the Dallas front office could sway.
There’s no denying Stephenson’s value. He’s a unique talent with plenty to offer in the way of stuffing the box score — the guy is wired to produce triple-doubles. His value is embellished to an even higher level when you consider what Dallas needs: perimeter defense, athleticism, rebounding and the ability to fill in at both the shooting guard and small forward positions.
Assuming the Mavericks do what they say they want to do and keep their core intact, Stephenson’s versatility would create immeasurable flexibility for coach Rick Carlisle as far as lineup options. Stephenson could start at small forward and allow Shawn Marion to come off the bench, or he could back up either Marion or shooting guard Monta Ellis all the way to the 2014-15 sixth man of the year award.
We all know what kind of baggage Stephenson is perceived to carry with him at this point. But can a team like the Mavericks really pass on even making an offer to him? He has everything they need short of rim protection, and Carlisle has been known to reel in tough-to-manage personalities. Honestly, Dallas… think about it. Just think about it.
Brian Ogle is a Dallas Mavericks writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @TheOgle.