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The Potential Suitors for Lance Stephenson

Zach Lowe of Grantland penned a wonderful breakdown of all things Lance Stephenson. He notes some exclusive driving and assist numbers supplied to Grantland by SportsVu, and they add a lot of nuance to the discussion of how his game will improve as he matures (spoiler alert: it would probably be more dynamic outside of Indiana’s anemic offense that features no big men who finish at the rim).

That’s all well and good (and definitely read it), but we’re looking at an expanded, nuanced take on what we already know: Lance is a unique talent at 23 who has some negative on-court qualities but those may be further dwarfed in the future by his skill set, playmaking, athleticism, and physique.

Thus, the biggest takeaway here is Lowe laying out the potential market for Stephenson in free agency. He lists just three teams as the “best possibilities”: Indian, Detroit, and Charlotte. In another group, (the “wild cards”) he includes the Bulls, Bucks, Hawks and Lakers, with another (“sign-and-trade possibilities”) is comprised of the Nuggets and Pelicans.

For various reasons, it really does sound like the Pacers are the only team with serious interest. The case for the Hornets sounds compelling, as Lowe puts it.

Michael Jordan is talking big, and the Bobcats have money to spend. Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are nice players, but MKG is in the midst of a full-blown shot reconstruction, and Henderson can’t reliably shoot from deep or create off the bounce.

Stephenson would provide some juice for an offense that needs it, as well as ensure that Kemba Walker isn’t overburdened. He just spent four years learning a defensive system that isn’t much different from what Steve Clifford runs. Charlotte got a taste of winning, and they’re hungry for more.

Still, I have a feeling the decision makers in Charlotte would prefer a guy with all his qualities who, ya know, didn’t happen to be Lance Stephenson.

Between this breakdown, as well as reports we saw during the Eastern Conference Finals from Marc Stein about Stephenson’s market “drying up,” the betting line favorite has to be on Lance returning to Indiana — and possibly for cheaper than once feared.

Indiana has three bold deal-makers in Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh, and Kevin Pritchard. It will shock no one if they pull something unexpected to sort this out and accelerate any transition they think is necessary. Trading Hibbert probably isn’t off the table, and unloading George Hill’s contract would give them some breathing space and the chance to search out a more dynamic lead ball handler.

Stephenson should fit any long-term picture the Pacers have of themselves; they know him best and he’s comfortable there. But price could be an issue. Indiana is hoping Stephenson has cost himself some money, and there are lots of teams waiting around to see if the market starts in the $6 million–$8 million range — a spot at which they might dive in. The Pacers would outbid that, but it takes only one daring team to take a leap and smash that market apart.

Still, the big downside is the Pacers salary cap situation, so we are Jon Snow over here, knowing nothing.

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Tags: Indiana Pacers Lance Stephenson

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