In what promises to be an action-packed summer with the free agents soon to hit the market and a great draft class incoming, Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers stands out as one player many teams are intrigued by. As an unrestricted free agent, he will be fair game once teams are allowed engage with players. As a part of a Pacers team that is growing used to competing and going deep in the playoffs, you would think a team like the Orlando Magic would have no hope signing him. You might be wrong there though.
Regardless of who the Magic draft this summer, be it a guard or forward, there are only so many young pieces a team can have. Now Stephenson is young, only twenty-three in fact, but he is hardly a rookie. In fact, that age could be the key to a team like Orlando landing him. Being as young as he is, Stephenson may be more inclined to have his head turned by dollars. Orlando can offer such riches, and even if he were to sign a four-year contract, he’d hit the market again at twenty-seven, in other words in his prime. From there, he would have a better idea if Orlando is capable of challenging for championships, or if his quest to win is best served elsewhere.
Hold up though, because we are getting a little bit ahead of ourselves. Doesn’t Stephenson have a good thing going in Indiana? In a word yes. He is not the go to guy on this team, and as such does not have to deal with the pressures of being “the guy.” Having said that, he is still highly thought of by most Indiana fans and head coach Frank Vogel, however the jury is out on what Larry Bird happens to think of him. Nevertheless he is in a good spot right now, so why would he want to move on?
First of all, Indiana may not be able to keep him. Passionate as their fans are, they are not a truly big market team themselves. On top of that, the Pacers may not actually be able to keep him either. Roy Hibbert, Paul George and David West will all be on the payroll for years to come yet, and they have gotten their money. Mid-level guys like Luis Scola, George Hill and even Evan Turner are also guaranteed theirs for at least another year.
Add to that the fact that Stephenson is coming off his rookie contract and likely will feel his borderline All-Star play last season deserves some significant money, and that leads to problems for Indiana. In fact, the whole situation is eerily similar to the one the Oklahoma City Thunder faced which ultimately led to them letting James Harden walk away.
Stephenson may feel he can be the man, and on the basis of last year he is on his way. However for everything that he does right, there are things that need work. His jump shot needs work, yet for a guy as strong as he is he doesn’t force his way to the rim enough. For every brilliant pump fake to trick opposing defenders, there is a play which sees Stephenson run headfirst into groups of three and four players and turn over the ball. In other words, he’s got the talent to be an All-Star, he just needs to work on other parts of his game. This will come as he grows as a player you would think though.
Returning to his current situation, Stephenson can never be the go to player on his current team while Paul George is there. Which makes Orlando an intriguing prospect for him. He could get his money, and overnight be the best player on an up and coming team.
Yes, there is still much work to be done to make the Magic relevant again, but being the face of a group of players that are creating a buzz with their youthful athleticism, not to mention getting paid well to do so, is a combination a lot of players would find hard to turn down.
Again, he is also in the stage of his career where he can afford to take the money and see how it plays out, there’s a couple more big money deals coming his way down the line if he continues to blossom.
Despite his upside though, there undoubtedly remains a bonehead within him. The kind of player and apparent attitude that would give the Washington Wizards fits. Orlando have a young core of what appears to be hardworking and levelheaded individuals.
You absolutely risk ruining that chemistry if you introduce Stephenson to the mix. His blowing in LeBron James‘ face in the conference finals was overblown itself as a story, but it is still known that he occasionally acts without thinking. No matter where he ends up, even if he stays put in Indiana, his temperament and mentality will remain an issue until he proves otherwise.
Aside from that there is a lot to like for both parties here. Indiana will be vulnerable to losing this guy and Orlando could certainly cash in on that. The city is a great place to live, especially for a young guy. Expectations wouldn’t be through the roof either with this team, not yet anyway. He gets his money and you would assume the keys to the franchise going forward, and it’s all good for everybody involved.
Stephenson may ultimately decide that he can get a better deal elsewhere and his people will certainly look to do that, but you can’t say this scenario isn’t one that would at least get him thinking for a moment.