The Indiana Pacers are in a very difficult spot with free agent shooting guard Lance Stephenson, and they need to be extremely careful not to overpay out of desperation. Stephenson turned down the Pacers’ five-year, $44 million contract offer, and is looking for a bigger deal elsewhere. While Indiana certainly would love to keep him, they need to make sure that they don’t overpay to make that happen.
Why shouldn’t the Pacers overpay to keep Stephenson? There are quite a few reasons that the Pacers need to be very careful with this situation, and they are all about the future of the team. Indiana has had a history of dealing out very aggressive extension offers, and they are paying for those decisions by overpaying George Hill and Roy Hibbert, which is tying them down from making other moves.
Stephenson has unbelievable potential and could turn out to be a star, but there are also signs that he could change when given his first big contract. There have been many talented young players throughout the history of the NBA that have gotten their first payday and then taken things for granted. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Stephenson would end up being that type of player, but he has had some character issues both on and off the court in the past.
Another obvious reason that the Pacers shouldn’t overpay for Stephenson is that they simply can’t afford to tie up even more money in that type of a move. They are already strapped with bad contracts, and signing Stephenson to the type of deal that he is looking for would likely force the Pacers over the luxury tax unless they were able to find a trade partner to take one of their other bad contracts. Larry Bird has had a history of forcing bad contract extensions because of being nervous about losing the player, but that cannot happen again in this situation.
While Stephenson did show a lot of improvement this past season, he also overshadowed that with immaturity from time to time. Things began to spiral downwards when Stephenson was not selected to the All-Star Game, and it seems that he took that way too personally. He began playing selfish basketball down the stretch of the season and his play even garnered comment from big man Roy Hibbert.
Despite all of that selfish play, Stephenson was the most consistent passer on the Pacers’ roster. He ended the season with five triple-doubles to lead the NBA, and registered career numbers in each category. His averages ended up at 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game, and even raised his shooting numbers to 49.1 percent from the field and 35.2 percent from behind the three-point arc.
Overall, this is going to be a very difficult next couple weeks for the Pacers. Not only is Stephenson a great basketball player, but he has also become a fan favorite for the majority of Pacer fans. If they do decide to allow him to walk, there will be quite a few unhappy fans questioning Bird’s decision.
Evan Massey is a Staff Writer for HoopsHabit.com.