Born Ready…to leave.
This headline feels fitting after the Indiana Pacers learned this morning that free agent shooting guard Lance Stephenson was taking his talents to Charlotte. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer broke the news, as well as the hearts of many Pacers fans, when he reported Stephenson would join the Hornets on a three-year, $27 million deal. Wait what?!
It’s true, Stephenson turned down a reported five-year, $44 million deal with the Pacers to sign with the Hornets. With the third year being a player option, Stephenson leaves potentially three years of guaranteed money on the table. But why?
To me the signing signals that Stephenson no longer wanted to be a part of the Pacers organization. Why else take a shorter deal, while spurning the team that gave you your first opportunity? Perhaps Lance was just being Lance? Maybe the Brooklyn native was tired of living in the shadows of Paul George, and never recovered from his all-star snub? Whatever the reason, Stephenson is now headed to Charlotte and the Pacers have a BIG void to fill…don’t they?
Stephenson averaged 14 points, 7 rebounds and about 5 assists for the Pacers last year. More importantly Stephenson brought an energy/spark to a Pacers lineup that often needed a jolt.
However Stephenson also brought some bad, like he showed during the Eastern Conference Finals blowing in the ear of Lebron James, covering the face of James with his hand, and what I felt was a blatant hit on Norris Cole. Stephenson would also steal rebounds from teammates to pad his own stats and sulk whenever benched to his disliking. That behavioral is replaceable.
The Pacers don’t have much money to work with, only able to offer the league minimum to any potential free agent due to being over the league salary cap. This likely means the Pacers will have to look to improve via trade.
Rodney Stuckey has been a name mentioned as a possible replacement for Stephenson, and his ability to attack and finish at the basket is a similar trait. Stuckey averaged 14 points a game himself last season coming of the Pistons bench, and could serve as a serviceable replacement in the Pacers lineup.
I still feel the Pacers best bet would be to bring in a top flight point guard and move George Hill to shooting guard. Hill seems to play his best basketball when he’s aggressive and looking to score, so the addition of a true point could be the best option.
Goran Dragic could still be a possibility. The Suns used a 1st round pick on point guard Tyler Ennis, signed free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas to four-year contract, and still seem likely to re-sign restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe…who’s a point guard. Dragic has a player option next year in 2015/16, and will likely be looking for a contract extension himself after this season.
Rajon Rondo is another point guard the Pacers (as well as the majority of the league) would like to get their hands on. Rondo is in the last year of his contract with the Celtics, and could also be moved from a Boston team that seems to be leaning towards rebuilding.
The issue for the Pacers is they really don’t have many trade assets that either team would want. Roy Hibbert would be a likely candidate with both the Suns and Celtics in the market for a rim-protecting big man, but is Hibbert enough to land Rondo or Dragic? Probably not without some other incentives, and there’s the also the question of whether the Pacers are ready to give up on their defensive anchor/advantage?
Larry Bird and company still have some work to do, and questions to be answered. With only 1 roster spot and no cap space, Bird will have to be both patient and creative throughout the rest of this free agency period in order to replace the impact Lance Stephenson had.
So will the Indiana Pacers miss Lance Stephenson? Well that remains to be seen, but there’s one thing I know for certain…the Hornets can have the guy deemed “Born Ready”. I’ll put my money on “The Hick from French Lick”..you know, the guy they now call “Larry Legend”.