Should the Pacers re-sign Lance Stephenson? It is the biggest question of the summer, and the outcome may well prove to be a turning point for the franchise.
If he leaves in free agency, and they can’t replace his contributions (spoiler alert: they almost certainly cannot given salary cap concerns), we have likely already seen the peak of this current era.
If he stays for big money, consensus thought says that Indiana could either overcome this season’s setbacks to further improve or that his, let’s say, personality quirks could become more deleterious and the team would be saddled with a problem while failing to get any better.
But those possibilities, while making for interesting thought exercises, probably don’t matter as much as the realities of market economics.
Because according to Larry Bird, speaking at a season-end press conference yesterday, said that the team wants to keep him. And that whether or not they do will likely depend on how much other teams offer.
The Associated Press’ Michael Marot asked the all-important question.
What are the Pacers willing to pay to keep Stephenson?
”We’ve talked about it briefly, but I haven’t sat down with the owner (Herb Simon) yet,” Bird said. ”There’s going to be a price and we’re not going to go over that.”
The Pacers are a small-market team that, reportedly, lost money for much of the decade preceding the 2011 lockout. They have needed public financing assistance to help pay for the burden of operating The Fieldhouse. Owner Herb Simon reportedly, and for an understandable rationale, will not go over the luxury tax line for the team’s salary.
All this means that, if the price is too high, Stephenson won’t be back. Unless he is willing to offer the Pacers a home-town discount. Though we’re talking about a guy who, in four years of playing professional basketball, is a relative pauper, making less than $3.5 million in his career thus far, according to Basketball-Reference.
Marc Stein of ESPN recently reported that the free agent market for Stephenson, due to his antics and other quirks, is “drying up.”
Stephenson has turned off potential free-agent suitors with his unreliability — ever since being snubbed for the Eastern Conference All-Star team — as much or more than he’s annoyed fellow Pacers. His free-agent market, according to the latest rumbles on the personnel grapevine, is already drying up. And it’s not even June 1 yet.
Of course, it only takes one GM to reverse that entirely. Still, if the market for Lance is soft, then it means the Pacers have a better chance at re-signing him for their top salary offer. Then again, it also means that they want Stephenson more than anyone else — and we won’t which side made the better choice until after the ink on the contract is dry.
As Bird also mentioned yesterday, “You just don’t let talent like [Lance] walk away if you can help it.” So if they can re-sign him for cheaper than it looked possible to just a few months ago, that could be great. Or they might just be the next team to experience the winner’s curse.