Why Lance Stephenson Left the Pacers

Lance Stephenson signed with the Charlotte Hornets.

You have to think the Pacers saw this coming. After offering Lance Stephenson a five-year, $44 million contract, the 23-year-old guard was more than willing to pursue greener pastures. The offer was reasonable but certainly didn’t scream true love.

Then, Indiana went on with its other plans. They signed C.J. Miles for a role that was clearly “we hope we will bring you off the bench but it wouldn’t kill us if you wind up being the starter.”

Also came other, smaller moves: signing a floor-spacing big man from Croatia (Damjan Rudez), re-committing to a deep reserve (Lavoy Allen), and taking a flier on an injured kid from Western Michigan (Shayne Whittington).

Together — as well as looking at the Pacers’ payroll — the message from Larry Bird to Lance was obvious: our offer is our offer, so take it or leave it.

He left it, preferring to take a shorter deal with a similar per-year salary in Charlotte.

I can only speculate at the reasons, and four stand out.

The first is money, specifically when it comes to looking at career earning potential.

If Lance signed with Indiana,  he would be locked up until he was 28 with a guaranteed career earnings of less than $50 by that point (he made next to nothing in his first four years by NBA standards).

By signing a short deal, he will be a free agent at 26 and, in his eyes, perhaps be a max salary candidate who could re-sign with Charlotte for some huge sum, possibly north of $90 million, before the 2017-18 season starts. This presumes a few All-Star appearances and a few years averaging around 20 points, 8 boards and 7 assists per game. To outsiders this may seem possible if lofty, but Lance may feel it’s closer to his destiny.

And why not? He was the only Pacer last season to not slump or falter down the stretch and he hasn’t reached his prime. He may well think he’s better than Paul George — and he likely does have more raw talent.

Getting back to money, signing his second large deal at 26 would likely mean he could sign a third big deal as a 30- or 31-year-old. Though young, he didn’t play in his first two years — not to mention his mini-Lebron-style indestructible body — so he may well be a be to get a high paying three-year deal when he is 30.

The second reason Charlotte may have landed Lance is that he felt unwanted in Indiana. For a kid from Brooklyn to want to spend his 20s as a millionaire in Indianapolis while possibly missing All-Star games and sacrificing individual glory for the good of a team, he probably needs to feel like the franchise is committed.

As mentioned, the Pacers offer wasn’t insulting, but its main message was fiscal prudence and daring Lance to leave — not sending a wave of candy grams and valentines to a prized free agent. It’s cool they made a movie trying to convince him to stay but money talks is more than a bad cliche and/or Chris Tucker movie.

It’s altogether possible that Lance saw that offer and told Indiana to kick rocks on pure principle.

The third reason: Indiana’s locker room really does have issues and Lance wanted out unless the money was too good to turn down.

We do know that Lance and Evan Turner got into a bit of a scuffle on the eve of the playoffs and rumors floated around about other, larger personal issues.

And Roy Hibbert all but publicly called Stephenson a “selfish dude.” Even if nothing else happened, stuff like that might be enough for Lance to eject. I could see myself doing the same. “Wait, this 7’2″ stiff who has been playing like the tallest extra in The Walking Dead for two months — a center I outrebound — thinks that I, the guy who leads the team in assists and takes way fewer shots than I think I deserve, am selfish? Word? Later.”

Throughout the late-second collapse, the players reportedly held a series of problem-diagnosing/discussing meetings that, in different instances, included guys like David West, George Hill, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and Rasual Butler. Lance wasn’t included in these by and large, reportedly. Again, it’s not hard to see him looking around and becoming sick of being treated like the little brother whose value wasn’t respected even while he was outplaying nearly everyone.

The last reason is the simplest: He thinks he can be the clear number-one in Charlotte.

For now, they have Al Jefferson, but Lance could immediately be the ball-dominant wing there, and his game could certainly captivate a fan base in a way that Al Jeff’s solid production and steady footwork likely never will.

In Charlotte, he can be the wing star whereas he may realize that that will never happen if he plays next to Paul George.

Naturally, there could be other reasons that Lance bounced. Maybe he was drawn in by the MJ allure or simply wants one of those cool North Carolina license plates.

But we know that the Pacers never made an overwhelming offer and that Lance wasn’t in love with Indiana enough to stay.

Now, if Indiana has no way to replace his on-court impact, losing such a talent will hurt the Pacers short-term chances significantly.

Sir Lancealot is gone.

Tags: Indiana Pacers Lance Stephenson

  • Ian

    I have to think that something went on in the Pacers thinking that they decided they didn’t really want Lance back.

    If the only concession they had to make was some sort of player option after 2-3 years, then that seems pretty small in the grand scheme of things. Worst case you get 2-3 of below market production from him and he walks.

    I think in the short run this will not badly hurt the team. The reason I say that is that I think the other guys on the roster will step up their games, especially considering how ball-dominant Lance is. I think we’ll see a bit more from pretty much everyone. It may also improve chemistry overall since Lance seemed to be at the center of many of the issues (though I’m not convinced he was the CAUSE, he was the focal point).

    Long term this could be horrible though because if Lance turns into a 20-7-7 guy with efficient production, there’s simply no one on the Pacers roster who can do that to replace him (not counting PG of course).

    The biggest issue now is the lack of SGs on the roster. Even if Miles can be a decent starter, who backs him up on the wing? The Pacers have nothing behind him. All their acquisitions who might get playing time are big men. Who backs up Paul George? Do they Pacers resign Turner now? He is an RFA. As bad as Turner was, I do think he’d be better without having to share the ball with Lance. I kinda feel like the Pacers will have to resign him and cut Scola, who is sort of redundant now.

    • Joe Betz

      It will be interesting to see what happens with Turner. But if you cut Scola, then you are hoping Allen provides you with similar offensive punch.

      Also, I think Lance for sure turns into a 20 – 7 -7 guy because he will now touch the ball a lot more and Charlotte’s offense was better than the Pacers last year.

      • Ian

        Actually, Charlotte ranked 2 spots lower than the Pacers, and of course the Pacers had an average offense the first half of the season and a terrible one the second half (which was blamed on Lance. I honestly don’t know how true that was, his assists certainly went down).

        Scola turned in a career low 13.42 PER last year, and he’s 34. He also can’t shoot the 3. I feel like the Pacers are better off giving his minutes to Copeland and Rudez who are spread the floor types. Allen is more of a banger inside who will back up at 4 and sometimes 5. Most of his offense will be off rebounds.

        I’ll be curious to see how Lance will turn out in Charlotte. Remember that they have a full time ball handler in Walker, who is poorly suited to play off the ball like George Hill did as he’s a crap 3-pt shooter. Walker expects to have the ball in his hands so I’m not sure how that is going to work out.

        Right now the Pacers literally have one listed SG and 2 SF under contract, but Copeland isn’t really a SF. He’s better suited to guard bangers than perimeter guys. I think they have to sign Turner.

        The only other option I could see is some kind of sign and trade for Eric Bledsoe. Not sure what the Pacers can offer other than Hill and a 1st rounder though. I really, really hope we don’t go for Rondo though. That would mean a starting lineup where only 2 guys can shoot the 3, which is a disaster in today’s league.

        • Earl Malmsteen

          Agree on level of interest in watching Lance in Charlotte. Lance will probably be their best 3 point shooting starter, Kemba has the ball a lot, MKG almost never takes a shot outside the paint, no idea who their PF is (Williams?) and Jefferson lives on the block. Seems like a weird fit to me.

          Without further trades, this move really cranks up the pressure on PG and Hill to create more. It won’t hurt so bad if aggressive George Hill shows up, but if not it’s looking pretty bad.

    • Earl Malmsteen

      Disagreed with this thinking because I thought Bird would have offered that as a possibility if Lance had other similar options on the table, but apparently not.

  • Robert T. Ives

    I have a lot of respect for Mr. Wade, but this is silly: “He May well think he’s better than Paul George — and he likely does have more raw talent.” VERY few players in the N.B.A. have more raw talent than Paul George, and Born Ready (who was my favorite Pacer, no doubt) is not one of them.

    I thought the Pacers should have offered a shorter contract and taken the chance they might lose Lance in a couple of years if he became a star. Lance is taking a risk here- if he does not improve or is injured, he will be sorry he did not take the Pacers’ deal.

    • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

      Signing a 5 year contract below your expected value during that time frame is a risk too.

      • Robert T. Ives

        Absolutely. I think Lance made a good move, and I think the Pacers SHOULD have offered a short term contract.

    • Jaret Binford

      He improved every year and you don’t make mid-air, top of the key, behind the back passes for a corner three without raw talent. PG does not see the court like Lance does. I can see your point about PG’s talent, but I don’t think Wade was far off. Lance is bursting with potential and I’ll be curious to see how he does as a potential number one option to see if Jared Wade was right or not.

      • Ian

        I think George and Lance will both make big leaps next year. Unfortunately for the Pacers Lance will be doing it on another team.

        As good as Lance is, he’s not 6’9 like PG and that matters.

    • jaydoo

      Lance does have more talent.. The kid has unbelievable court vision… You can tell he’s going to be a special player.. If he mature’s and does the right thing.. He’s going to be great!

  • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

    The contract length is what killed them. Salary cap is projected to be over $80M in 2017… possibly higher. You’re not only locking him up through at least the first half of his prime, but you’re doing so at George Hill’s price point during a time when salaries are going to explode.

    Unless Lance implodes in Charlotte, this deal makes SOOOOO much more sense for him. He may make 50% more over the next 5 years than he would have in Indiana.

    • Jaret Binford

      They could have come back with a lower contract length. I don’t think its out of the question to sign the guy for 8.8 at X years. if they really wanted him

      • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

        Could’ve. Would’ve. Should’ve. Indy just missed their best chance with the 2011-2015 core.

  • poot

    wow Wade, this was a shitty article… are you sure you’re not DWYANE wade???

    “He was the only Pacer last season to not slump or falter down the stretch….”

    that’s one point of view… or maybe HE was the reason the Pacers slumped and faltered down the stretch. from what I remember, Lance ended the season in horrible form. he had one triple-double in a throwaway game #81 of the season, the other 4? all prior to all star break. whatever metrics you want to use (I like individual Game Score, per bball_ref) he was much worse post his “All Star “Snub”” – got 15+ GmSc 4 times after all star break… got 15+ GmSc 15 times before. got a +/- over 10 8 times after, got that 22 times before.
    oh and not to mention all the rebounds he would steal from Roy, all the fights he caused in the locker room (Wade what the hell, insinuating Lance left because of locker room issues??? He WAS the issue.) and all the stupid shit he would say in interviews.


    Indiana will be better off without him. a classic case of addition by subtraction

    • http://letterboxd.com/markshek/ MarkShek

      “all the rebounds he would steal from Roy”

      how can anyone say with a straight face that a guy 9 inches shorter is stealing rebounds? I’m 6’0″… If i play with someone that’s 5’3″ and he gets rebounds instead of me, that’s on me. Lance got rebounds instead of Roy because Lance hustled his ass off while Roy looked like an uncoordinated, lumbering fool for a good chunk of his time on the court. I thought Roy’s MMA training during last offseason was supposed to improve his coordination and balance, but it sure as hell didn’t show.

      who knows what the real locker room issue was, but here’s to hoping you’re correct about addition by subtraction… I have a hard time believing we’re a better team without Lance, but man I hope your prognostications are better than mine

      • poot

        when 8 players clear out after a missed shot (including all 5 from the other team) and it is falling into the centers hands, who has worked his ass off to establish that position under the rim, and the 9th player, the guard from his own team, sneaks in to snatch the ball and pad his stats, you dont see it coming, and you dont fight him for it, you just hope that he would mature and be a team player.

        honestly, you watched Lance all season. you saw him swipe away rebounds that were falling uncontested into West or Hibberts hands. its not an exageration. should Roy have boxed out Lance?

        • jaydoo

          Wow.. I’m an avid Pacers fan and I never looked at it like this.. There’s plenty of Rebounds that Lance DIDN’T get, where’s Roy at?????? Lance had to rebound his ass off because Roy can’t be counted on down there.. Lance hustled hard, and worked his tail off, in the offseason, during the season, after practice, before and after games.. and it showed on the court.. If you’re 6’5 shooting guard can take away your rebound that you’re in position to grab than that’s just pathetic.. I don’t see it any other way… I guess we’ll see this season… Lance isn’t there.. So Roy should average 10 boards a night right? D.West 8 or 9??? Let’s see what happens….

      • Earl Malmsteen

        the initial rant was silly but Lance definitely stole tons of rebounds last year. I mean really – did you watch the games?

      • J S

        By your logic, a shorter guy should never dunk over a taller defender.

  • metalhead65

    the reason he left is the same reason all athletes leave and that is money. he said the same b.s. all athletes say before they sign with another team and that is how much he loves the fans and the city and that it is all about playing for a winner. so what does he do? takes the MONEY! nothing wrong with it and most of us would do the same but at least own up to it! don’t give the stupid I was disrespected garbage and just say it was about the money all along! and make no mistake it is about the money as while Charlotte is a young and maybe up and coming team they are not a contending team. he will get his stats because he will be the man on that team and be expected to do all scoring but that could and will lead to locker room issues when the other young guys start wanting theirs and get tired of him hogging the ball.

  • Donald Hermann

    Bye Lance, You’ll be missed.

    He was a good player on an incredible contract the past two years. Getting him on a reasonable contract would have been a feat. I can’t imagine that Larry Bird wouldn’t have offered him a player option after three years…So I dunno… I don’t think that was the sticking point.

    We may never know where this went wrong but Lance certainly traded down from a team talent and management perspective. The Bobcats have not shown they can consistently compete for a playoff spot, much less championships, and MJ has a spotted history at best as a manager. I think Lance is the biggest loser here and that’s hard to say about a guy making millions of dollars.

  • Joe Betz

    The Pacers open window to make it to the Finals with Lebron’s departure now only has a small crack. CJ Miles is a second tier shooting guard who will hit some threes and play average defense. The Pacers might add someone before the trade deadline, but that will likely mean shipping another first round pick for someone who might or might not flounder in Vogel’s schemes.

    Expect some Watson, Hill, George, West, Hibbert lineups this year. Here’s to PG’s post game improvement, because this team will now struggle even more to score (clink)…

  • Brandon Burton

    “He was the only Pacer not to slump or falter down the stretch”. Uh, does DAVID WEST ring a bell?

  • Ian

    Before ASB/After ASB/Playoff:
    PG: .438 .370 22.2 PPG / .396 .351 20.8 / .438 .403 22.6
    DW: .493 13.7 PPG / .479 14.5 PPG / .494 15,1 ppg
    GH: .451 .372 11.1 PPG / .422 .351 8.8 ppg / .444 .364 12.1 ppg
    RH: .464 7.7 RPG 11.8 ppg / .390 4.7 RPG 8.9 ppg / .449 5.5 RPG 9.3 PPG
    LS: .502 .338 5.1 APG 14.1 PPG / .471 .373 3.7 APG 13.4 PPG / .455 .358 4.2 APG 13.6 PPG

    So of the 5 starters, Paul George, Hibbert and Hill slumped dramatically in the 2nd half. all 3 improved in the playoffs, PG especially. Hibbert is of course is an average of his mostly good numbers against miami and his awful ones against Atlanta. Lance dropped off only a little scoring wise in the 2nd half but his assists dropped way down. He was also worse overall in the playoffs than during the regular season though not dramatically so.

    West was the only guy to step up much in the 2nd half. His rebounding also improved. And he definitely picked it up in the playoffs.

  • Tenacious D.

    The Pacers gambled on guys like Hill (when they could have had the far superior Kawhi Leonard–on a rookie contract no less) and Roy (a wildly overpaid, below-average center), and the dice came up snake eyes. Now, we’re paying the price. The Pacers front office has no clue whatsoever.

    How can any Pacer fan complain about a guy who acts goofy but almost always delivers come game time? Meanwhile, big baby Roy whines and says he’s willing to be traded after the Pacers went all in for him. I’ll take on-court antics and performance over on-court non-performance and griping.

    The Pacers should have gone over the cap for Lance and then did what they had to do to make Roy look good early next season and then traded him to the first Western team that would take him. As far as I can recall, salary penalties are determined by your total load at the end of the year, not the start of the season.

    • Earl Malmsteen

      If the #1 seed and 2 trips to the conference finals is the result of “no clue whatsoever” I bet you have some worse opinions about other front offices. Care to share those?

    • h3d

      You need to be reminded that it was actually SA who drafted Kawhi because that’s who they wanted the Pacers to draft.

    • poot

      Hibbert is the best defensive center, if not the best defensive player in the league. to call him “below average” makes you look like a Tenacious retarD – - -
      seriously, let’s just say, for your sake, that you meant a below average “starting” center. Even that implies that there are FIFTEEN centers better than him in the NBA. Ready? Go! shoot you’re coming up empty after only three names? well that’s embarrassing…

      since when did Lance always deliver? The playoffs? The second half of the season?

      The VERY BEST version of Lance was the Nov-Dec2013 Lance, when he was good enough to play like an allstar, but didnt yet have enough people telling him that he should be one. He was at least somewhat of a team player, and not much of a distraction. As soon as the media started supporting his self propelled all star bid, it was curtains, and the Lance that we’ve seen since then is no better than Ricky Davis, JR Smith, or other bushleague crap. at least he’s somebody else’s problem now.

    • jaydoo

      I don’t know if you remember, but I remember sooooo many Pacers “fans” saying they wouldn’t buy tickets, watch games, support the team, if the team didn’t resign Hibbert (match the portland offer).. Now everyone has a different opinion… Resigning Roy. MADE SENSE at the time. When his head is on straight, he makes us one of the best IF NOT, the best defensive team in the league…

      Where I say Larry Bird messed up????

      DRAFTING TYLER HANSBOROUGH when TY LAWSON, and JEFF TEAGUE were still on the board.. If we drafted a PG that year, then in the following years we wouldn’t have felt the NEED to have HILL as our PG because we would have had one.. and KAWHI LEONARD would have fallen into our laps… IMAGINE THIS TEAM:

      PG: TY LAWSON (that’s who we would have picked) or JEF TEAGUE

      Yes that was a very possible outcome for us.. so sad

  • Taposh ‘Tap’ Rudra

    I feel like there was an antagonistic agent, Alberto Ebanks, at work here. Since Lance (and the Pacers) wanted to stick together, the Ebanks should have taken the three year offer back to Indiana and said “can you do this?”

    Instead, it seems like Stephensons side felt angry and disrespected that they only got the five year offer and chose Charlotte just as a spiteful move.

    I do understand trying to get a fresh start and leave the baggage behind, and I think Lance could be worth more than what he’s been offered, but the Pacers and him seemed not too far apart. If the agent was really representing Lances interests, including the desire to stay with Indiana, this would have been taken care of.

    In the end, the Pacers could also have offered him a shorter deal. I’m sure they knew his reasoning about not wanting to be committed to less per year for 5 years.

    As it is, onward and upward. If somehow Indiana develops some offensive strategy, it can still be a contending year.