The Pacers have one of the best starting lineups in the NBA, and David West is the only member of that cast who is susceptible to age-related decline. This means that this current Eastern Conference juggernaut should remain that way for the foreseeable future. Such an outcome will be even more certain if Indiana can retain the improving-by-the-day Lance Stephenson.
Of course, last year was the first season in which Stephenson got any meaningful run, so he still needs to prove (to some … not so much Larry Bird … or me) that he can consistently contribute and fit in with all the team concepts on both ends of the floor. But with each passing day, he is looking more and more like a player that any championship contender would love to have in its starting lineup.
The problem is that Stephenson becomes a free agent after this season.
I won’t dig into all the nuances of the financial challenges the Pacers face in trying to remain below the luxury tax line, but know that there isn’t a ton of extra cash lying around the front office. If Stephenson truly breaks out this season, there has always been the possibility that he will just play his way out of Indiana’s price range. (We’ll explore the detailed finances shortly.)
But according to Stephenson, this won’t matter. He’s coming back regardless.
In a recent article, Mark Montieth of Pacers.com included the following comments from Stephenson, who was reacting to questions about his future with the franchise.
“I don’t think about that,” Stephenson said after matching his regular season career high with 22 points while hitting a career-high five three-pointers in seven attempts. “It’s a long season, I’m not thinking nothing about contracts. I’m going to stay with the Pacers, so I’m not even thinking about the contract.”
Montieth wanted to ensure Lance’s sentiments were being captured correctly.
Going to stay? Does that mean he would turn down a larger offer to re-sign?
“I’m staying with the Pacers,” he said.
There you have it. Lance will be back.
Of course, that’s just one off-the-cuff comment from a 23-year-old. Athletes say a lot of things, and I’m sure agents and financial futures and countless other factors will be involved next summer more than they were while a player was simply reacting to what is inherently an emotionally charged question.
It sounds as though Stephenson really likes his career in Indiana — and we know he loves his mentor Larry Bird — and his heart is here. But we all know that this sport is a business and that next summer is very far away.