On paper, the Indiana Pacers have taken a step back.
The size of that step will determine how competitive the franchise remains in an Eastern Conference where talent has been dramatically reshuffled.
Whether that's a blessing or curse for these Pacers likely depends on how important things such as maturity and chemistry are to a winning equation. Stephenson was talented, but he was also a distraction. At times, his antics seemed to outweigh his production—a cost team president Larry Bird and Co. could ill afford.
Stephenson's ostensible replacement should entail significantly less drama.
USA Today's Sam Amick reported that, "Rodney Stuckey has agreed to sign with the Indiana Pacers on a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum salary, according to a person with knowledge of the situation."
So the first thing we can infer about Stuckey is that he isn't exactly a gold digger. He clearly picked the Pacers because he wanted the opportunity to win. Seven seasons with the Detroit Pistons will do that to a guy.
"We just kept in contact with (the Pacers) throughout the whole free agency process," Stuckey said after reaching a deal, according to IndyStar's Candace Buckner. "They always showed interest in me and once Lance decided to go to Charlotte, I thought it was just a good opportunity for me to come in and just be in a good situation with a great team."
Stuckey is coming for the right reasons, a good thing for Indiana's uneven chemistry and culture.
It should be slightly more focused on the bottom line this season...and less on blowing in guys' ears.
The good news is the 28-year-old is probably better than advertised. His minutes have steadily declined since 2009-10 when he averaged a career-high 16.6 points per contest to go along with 4.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds.
Last season, Stuckey tallied 13.9 points and just 2.1 assists per game. Still, Stuckey is a good ball-handler whose 23.5 usage rate ranked 11th among shooting guards. He also got to the free-throw line four times a game, tied for 12th among shooting guards.
Getting to the charity stripe partially makes up for the fact that Stuckey isn't a very good three-point shooter. If there's one thing that doesn't sit right about this deal, it's that the Pacers really needed another shooter to spread the floor with emerging star Paul George.
Stuckey won't do that, but he does make things happen.
It's just not quite like Lance Stephenson.
Stuckey made only 43.6 percent of his field-goal attempts last season, a downgrade from Stephenson's 49.1 percent. Lance was also the better three-point shooter by a wide margin. As CBSSports.com's Zach Harper noted, "[Stuckey is] a horrible 3-point shooter, making only 28.6 of his attempts in his career, but he's been a solid scorer outside of that."
Then there are the energy things, Stephenson's 7.2 rebounds per contest. There's his playmaking and 4.6 assists per game.
Stuckey won't replace all that.
He only played 26.7 minutes per game last his season, so his numbers deserve context. Stephenson averaged over 35 minutes a game.
Stuckey's prominence in the lineup will likely depend on whether the Pacers are finished making moves this summer—and what becomes of free agent Evan Turner, who's reportedly drawn interest from the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves, according to ESPN's Jeff Goodman (via Matt Moore of CBS Sports).
He certainly fills a rotational niche, taking some of the ball-handling pressure off George Hill and giving Frank Vogel another playmaker who can operate the pick-and-roll.
Until Indiana adds some depth on the wing, Stuckey figures to get plenty of chances. And our expectations for what he does with those chances should be measured. Stuckey isn't the worst thing for the Pacers, but it's unclear that really puts a title within closer reach.
At the moment, the Pacers aren't better. They could be on their way to more stability and maturity. But on the floor, Indiana needs some scorers, some difference-makers.
To that end, the organization also signed C.J. Miles this summer, hoping to address some of those perimeter shooting needs at the very least. Miles made 39.3 percent of his three-point attempts for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season and averaged 9.9 points in just 19.3 minutes per game.
Between Miles and Stuckey, the Pacers will have some weapons on the wing.
That doesn't mean they won't miss Lance.
Indiana has become a slightly deeper team, but it's hard to see who steps out during the postseason. Besides the obvious—and significant—contributions from George, who will the Pacers lean on? David West can only do so much. And who knows which Roy Hibbert will show up?
Stephenson could make the timely plays and inject life into a sometimes sputtering offense.
If Stuckey's going to do the same, he'll have to reclaim his form from 2009-10. In all fairness, a change of scenery might help. There were things working against him in Detroit, as noted by The Detroit News' Vincent Goodwill:
We can debate what was the biggest reason Stuckey didn’t fulfill the promise the organization saw in him: if it was the six coaches in seven years, the fact Stuckey never appeared to want the burden or the pressure of being 'The Man' or if the organization was never stable enough with positive influences who would allow Stuckey to grow and flourish.
Stuckey may benefit from the stability and consistent messaging in Indiana.
Maybe having a legitimate shot at the NBA Finals will bring out the best of him. There are certainly reasons for optimism, however speculative.
But there's also something to prove. There are Lance Stephenson's shoes to fill.
That won't be easy.
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