Best Potential Free-Agent Landing Spots for Lance Stephenson During Offseason
If he’s chasing the biggest payday, there’s a good chance there will be at least one team other than the Pacers that is willing to offer more money and take a shot on such a great, yet mercurial talent. Far too much was made out of Stephenson’s antics and how it will cost him substantial money in free agency. All it takes is one team and one offer.
Will the Pacers be that team? Here’s what Larry Bird told the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) recently about Stephenson’s future:
I think his ceiling is what he wants it to be," said Bird, the Pacers' president of basketball operations. "I always want him back. You just don't let talent like that walk away if you can help it.
If Stephenson wants to remain with a highly competitive team, his options may be more limited. Despite falling to Miami again, Indiana has been established as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. There’s a good chance Stephenson would be decreasing his chances of winning a title by going anywhere else.
We’ll see if that’s enough to keep him with the Pacers or not, but if Stephenson wants to leave in free agency, he’ll likely have some decent options available. Let’s take a look at the best potential free-agent landing spots for Lance Stephenson this offseason.
Once again, the Charlotte Hornets have money to spend in the offseason. After shocking the basketball world by landing Al Jefferson in last year’s free agency, could the Hornets do it again by nabbing Stephenson?
It certainly seems possible, especially because the Hornets don’t have a ton to work with on the wing. Gerald Henderson is a solid player who could shift to 3 in stretches or be used as a scoring sixth man off the bench. He’s certainly not a block to a talent as immense as Stephenson. His playmaking and ability in transition could really help unleash a Bobcats offense that struggled to create points outside of Jefferson and Kemba Walker.
Ideally, the Hornets would find a better three-point shooter to pair with Walker in the backcourt, but Stephenson’s defensive ability should fit right in with Charlotte’s tough defense under head coach Steve Clifford.
There’s a lot to like here, particularly if Stephenson doesn’t find the market as hospitable as he thought. While the Bobcats are a step down in supporting talent, there’s reason for optimism going forward and enough money on the table to potentially convince Stephenson to sign on.
As if the Cleveland Cavs weren’t dysfunctional enough last season, right? Might as well introduce fire to gasoline and throw Lance Stephenson into the mix and pray that whoever ends up as the new head coach in Cleveland can figure it all out.
While this might not be the most logical signing for that very reason, this would at least do two things for Cleveland. The first is that it would push Dion Waiters to a sixth man role, which he’s better suited to play, and the second would be that it would provide Cleveland’s offense with another playmaker. Kyrie Irving is a scorer first and foremost, and while Stephenson certainly looks to get his, he also likes to probe in the paint and rack up assists.
Stephenson would also add some intensity to the defensive end, particularly if Cleveland could find a way to play games that actually matter. Although his effort tends to waver on that end, Stephenson is dangerous when he’s locked in.
That’s basically what this acquisition would come down to for Cleveland. Would it be worth giving Stephenson a payday in the range of $9-10 million a season in hopes that he doesn’t implode and that he isn’t a locker-room cancer? Is his talent worth it? We’ve seen in the past that Cleveland has been willing to take big risks (that haven’t really panned out), so maybe they’ll go to the well one more time.
While I don’t think this is a good fit for Stephenson or Cleveland, it’s not hard to imagine the two finding each other in the night during the offseason and letting desperation set in.
If you’re of the belief that Stephenson needs a coach who will hold him accountable and be hard on him, well, there aren’t many guys better suited to do that than Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. While Stephenson’s unpredictable personality could cause some issues, the Bulls might not be in a position to pass on an exciting young talent, particularly if they clear cap space by amnestying Carlos Boozer to be a player in free agency.
If Carmelo Anthony doesn’t come, and trades for available guys like Kevin Love fall through, Stephenson might not be a bad backup option. He has experience playing for a defense-oriented team, and he’d get plenty of opportunities to run pick-and-roll and be an offensive focal point in Chicago.
Some might not think it's a great fit, though. Here's what Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago said on SportsNet Central.
As far as the Bulls, however, I can't see it happening. He just doesn't really fit the culture. I really like Lance, I've known Lance since he was a high school kid. But I just don't see him fitting the culture. I don't think the Bulls would go in that direction. I think they'll probably look for a less volatile guy, even if he doesn't make as much of an impact.
Again, there’s virtually no scenario where Stephenson would be Chicago’s first option, but weakening a contender and adding offense in one fell swoop would be a pretty nice move. Jimmy Butler can guard small forwards with ease, so there’s no real concern of positional blocks.
Amnestying Boozer, starting Taj Gibson, bringing over prized prospect Nikola Mirotic and signing Stephenson would be a nice offseason and would almost certainly improve Chicago quite a bit, regardless of whether Derrick Rose actually got back on the floor and contributed.
Chicago will have to decide relatively early if they want to be a player in free agency this year, but if they do and Anthony doesn’t sign, keep an eye on Stephenson swapping Eastern Conference powers and aligning himself with talented players in order to make championship runs going forward. For Stephenson personally, this is probably the best-case free-agent scenario.
Any questions of Stephenson’s fit have to take his attitude into consideration, so it’s hard to tell if the Atlanta Hawks feel they are in position yet to absorb a guy like Stephenson. The Hawks are essentially “Spurs East” thanks to GM Danny Ferry and head coach Mike Budenholzer, so it’s realistic to expect they value selfless, egoless basketball a little bit more than most teams.
That probably doesn’t describe Stephenson, but again, the talent might be worth the trouble. Even the Spurs took on Stephen Jackson (a few times) because he was capable of making an impact on both ends. It didn’t always last long, though, and it’s important to note there was an established pecking order that might not exist in Atlanta quite yet.
Still, it’s interesting to wonder about Stephenson’s fit and what it would do for the team that nearly eliminated his Pacers in the first round. A starting five of Jeff Teague, Lance Stephenson, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Al Horford would be one of the better ones in the league, at least on paper.
Truthfully, though, it’s hard to see this being a great fit on the court. Atlanta will be in asset-acquisition mode and looking for bargains similar to the one they nabbed last season with Millsap, but Stephenson’s affinity for dribbling and character concerns run in opposition to what Atlanta is trying to build.
The money and positional need are there, but there are plenty of reasons for the Hawks to be hesitant about how this would actually work.
Ultimately, Stephenson staying put in Indiana is probably the most likely and logical outcome. While the previously mentioned teams above will all have multiple options in free agency, that won’t be the case for Indiana. He’s all they have.
The importance of that can’t be stated enough. The Pacers don’t have a first-round pick this year, and there is no cap room to sign an impact player even if Stephenson goes elsewhere. That leaves Indiana with the real prospect of starting an unproven player like Solomon Hill if Stephenson bolts, which obviously isn’t an ideal situation for a team with title aspirations.
Perhaps if Indiana had better talent on the bench behind Stephenson or the means to acquire impact players, you could envision a scenario where losing the young shooting guard would be addition by subtraction.
That just doesn’t seem like the case, though, and it would certainly seem worth it to go over the cap while staying under the luxury tax to retain a player with so much potential. There are risks with re-signing Stephenson, but given Indiana’s situation, this isn’t the right time to be overly conservative and lose him for nothing.