It seems like an eternity ago that there was legitimate traction to the argument that Lance Stephenson should have been selected for the NBA All-Star game. Perhaps that’s a construct of the Indiana Pacers’ collapse or perhaps it’s the result of Stephenson’s antics towards the end of the season and even in the playoffs. However, it’s hard to deny that Stephenson is harder to peg than ever.
What’s not hard to pin down, though, is the fact that Stephenson returning to the Pacers next season is looking increasingly unlikely. The biggest part of that is a report from ESPN’s Chris Broussard early on Wednesday that Indiana and Stephenson’s talks had stalled. The Pacers put a five-year, $44 million deal on the table and Stephenson declined, wanting more money.
The unrestricted free agent is now going to test the rest of the market, hoping to net a deal that pays him well over the approximately $9 million per year that the Pacers were willing to offer. After a huge year from the 23-year-old Stephenson, it’s hard to fault him for seeking more money that he probably deserves. The tricky part is that Indiana is the best fit for him.
You could easily make the argument that there’s no player in this league more enigmatic than Stephenson. Whether he’s making off-the-wall comments in an interview, trying schoolyard ball-handling in the heat of a close game, or blowing in the ear of LeBron James, probably the biggest challenge with Stephenson is harnessing that into unique play and productivity.
Though the Pacers struggled at the end of last season and Stephenson may have been a part of that, Frank Vogel and the higher-ups in Indiana found an effective way to corral Stephenson into being a player that had a serious case as an All-Star. If he goes to a situation where he’s getting a massive payday and not given the same structure, that productivity could turn into somewhat of a sideshow starring him.
Stephenson is one of the hottest commodities on the open market and the fact that he’s unrestricted only heightens that. Teams with cap-room are sure to put some big numbers in front of him in the coming days. While he may have earned that big payday and while Indiana should probably pony up a bit more money, staying with the Indiana would be the best assurance for his future in this league. If he goes elsewhere, it’s a crapshoot.