Why starting Stephenson at PG could be a smart move for the Pacers' future
The more I think about it, the more I'm leaning toward this opinion: I want to see more of Lance Stephenson.
He played well in summer league. We all know that by now. He's 6-5 with a 6-11 wingspan. He's a guy who has been groomed to play in the NBA since he was, oh, probably 14. So let's find out what he can do.
Not next year.
Not three years down the road. (Seriously, how much more substantial information do we have about Brandon Rush that we didn't have two years ago with all this in-and-out-of-the-lineup silliness?)
My thinking on Stephenson goes something along these lines:
First, this season means next to nothing to the Pacers. Their whole Plan of Patience is to have salary cap space next summer. So if they win 20, 30 or 40 games this year, it changes little, except one potential item we'll get to in a bit.
Second, Larry Bird keeps saying he wants a point guard. The Pacers have Stephenson, their second-round pick; A.J. Price, last year's second-round pick; and T.J. Ford on the roster, with Earl Watson out there as a free agent.
The only real unknown in that group is Stephenson. Next year, neither Ford nor Price is going to bring much of anything as trade bait especially since Ford will be a free agent, so there is no reason to showcase them. Coach Jim O'Brien already has ticked off Ford to no end, and Price is coming along, but if it doesn't work out with a second-round pick, so be it. Which brings us back to Stephenson.
Third, Stephenson has been groomed to be an NBA player since he hit high school. I was at the ABCD camp in New Jersey the summer of 2005 when this kid who hadn't entered high school went toe to toe with O.J. Mayo, who at the time had the rep as the best prep guard in the nation.
Stephenson lost that battle to the guy a little more than three years older, but that was the biggest buzz from the entire camp. Lance Stephenson had the gall to go after O.J.? For real?
I remember talking to some of the New York basketball mafia about Stephenson that week and the stories were amazing. So were the hangers-on, which, unfortunately, also often is part of the New York basketball scene.
"That kid's in trouble," one NYC insider told me at the time.
"Why," I asked.
"Look at the shoes around him," I was told. "Lot of money in those shoes. Lot of money around that kid."
So many questions surrounded Stephenson for several reasons that many colleges backed away from recruiting him, and he ended up at Cincinnati for a year. Everyone who knew the people in his ear knew he was going pro after one year, regardless of how that year went.
So I don't put much stock in what he did or didn't do at Cincinnati. That was never the focus of the whole exercise. This - the NBA - was. So let's see what he's got for this level. I'm not saying he's better than Ford or Price at this point. A clear case could be made he's not. I'm saying, given the Pacers circumstances, it's almost a perfect storm of an opportunity to find out what he can do given some real time.
Think about it. How much buzz would there be if, say in January, the rookie point guard is playing well? Think that wouldn't get a fan base excited?
Fourth - and this is where it really gets fun - if he flops and flat out can't get it done, fine. Now we know. Or if he's starting to get it but the Pacers are losing, they can say something like, 'Hey, we want him to get experience and we're going to accept the losses. We're not going to yank him in and out the way we did with Rush and Roy Hibbert.'
Either way, there is an enormous potential benefit to massive losses because if there was ever a year for a team needing a point guard to totally tank it, this is it.
In the draft next year should be three freshman who look like starting NBA point guards for years to come in Josh Shelby, Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight. All should be top-10 picks. Shelby already has said he plans to go pro after his one year in college.
The 6-2 Shelby is going to Kansas, the 6-2 Irving to Duke, the 6-3 Knight to Kentucky. And that's in addition to current collegians such as Connecticut's Kemba Walker, who could play their way up the board.
Fall into the 2011 lottery and your chances of getting one of those main three should be pretty good. That could be your point guard of the future.
And it gives you multiple chances in the draft instead of one in the idiotic idea proposed by some that Kentucky freshman John Wall was the guy the Pacers should go after. Wall was going to be the No. 1 pick. The Pacers had no way of getting the No. 1 pick. What did the Pacers and Wall ever have to do with one another? Nothing.
However, if you fall into the lottery next year with three future starting point guards on the board, your chances of getting one of them are pretty good.
Then you've got your point guard of the future, plenty of salary cap space, potential additional trade bait in Stephenson and your back-up point guard of the future in Price.
It's a win-win.
If Stephenson is good, Pacers fans celebrate, they found their point guard of the future and have a ton of cap space.
If Stephenson is bad, Pacers fans celebrate, they're in the lottery and have a real chance at Irving, Selby or Knight and a ton of cap space.
Could make the summer of 2011 pretty good for the Pacers.
(Mike Wells will be out of the office the week of July 18-24.)