Lots of thoughts today on the news from Charlotte that Lance Stephenson has left the cocoon of Indianapolis for the open arms of Michael Jordan.
Let's just do them in bullet points, to make this easier:
1. Let's breakdown the numbers:
Indiana's offer vs Charlotte's offer, purely by cash.
2014/2015...........Indiana $7.640 million, Charlotte $9.000 million....difference of $1.360 million
2015/2016...........Indiana $8.213 million, Charlotte $9.000 million....difference of $787,000
2016/2017...........Indiana $8.829 million, Charlotte $9.500 million....difference of $671,000
2017/2018...........Indiana $9.491 million+, Charlotte $0 FREE AGENT
2018/2019...........Indiana $10.203 million+, Charlotte $0 FREE AGENT
So, Charlotte's offer pays Lance Stephenson $2,818,000 more in the first 3 years of the deal. Stephenson is then gambling that, factoring in his own ability to improve and the rising cap figures of the future, that he will be worth substantially more than approximately $10,000,000 in the summer of 2017 and can cash in then for big bucks.
I admire Stephenson for gambling big on himself instead of taking the sure thing in Indiana. I also think it is certainly acceptable for a confident young man to wish to have a bigger role and to have more responsibility with a different situation, which is a choice many of us at the age of 23 would make.
Fans that are complaining about Stephenson today are looking at his decision thru their own prisms, instead of Stephenson's own vision for his future. We shouldn't hold any ill will toward Stephenson for making this move, as it is a move many of us with confidence and ambition would have made as well.
It is certainly a gamble for Lance financially, but from his background this probably seems like monopoly money in a way to him. He bets on his own improvement and talent.....how can anyone with any competitive spirit do otherwise at his age and stage in life?
It is a testament to how Stephenson has matured and grown here in Indiana that he has the wherewithal and cajones to make a move like that anyway.....it shows more maturity in my view, not less, to make this wager on himself.
2. Indiana clearly believes that Lance is more likely to become a very strong player in the future as well. I say that because wanting to lock him up at a 5 year number was clearly an attempt by management to obtain a player of what they believed was a star quality future asset for substantially less than maximum money going forward. The refusal to offer a more short term deal much like Charlotte did actually showed that the Pacers valued Stephenson MORE, not less. Indiana was trying to jump the market and make a long term value play here, much like a baseball team who locks up a great talent with a long term guarantee, hoping that they play themselves into a supreme bargain in future years.
3. I am slightly confused that Indiana didn't offer something like this:
2014/2015: $7.640 million
2015/2016: $8.213 million PLAYER OPTION AFTER THIS YEAR
2016/2017: $8.829 million
Or, perhaps a player option after year 2. If Lance truly valued flexibility, then being able to get out of his deal after year 2 should have been worth something to him. Perhaps Indiana did offer that, but it isn't currently being reported that way. Which leads me to this.....
4. It appears that Lance Stephenson made a basketball decision also, in that he doesn't believe that he can reach is full potential as a player playing with us, for whatever reason.
Clearly Lance is a player that values touches, values stats, values numbers, shots, points, glory, etc. In Charlotte he will get more of everything, because they lack the talent that we do despite playing a somewhat similar style. He will get the chance to be "the man" in Charlotte, which he wouldn't get here because we already have Paul George, and Paul George is better than he is clearly.
5. Can we salvage something by doing this as a "sign and trade"?
Here are the basic numbers:
Salary Cap: $63,065,000
Indiana salary with 14 players under contract: $74,265,437
Luxury tax amount for 2014/2015: $76,829,000
Amount under the luxury tax: $2,563,563
INDIANA CANNOT SIGN ANY FREE AGENTS ABOVE THE LEAGUE MINIMUM, WE HAVE NO EXCEPTIONS LEFT.
INDIANA IS HARDCAPPED AT 81,000,000. SO WE CANNOT "SIGN AND TRADE" STEPHENSON TO CHARLOTTE, BECAUSE EVEN BEING MOMENTARILY OVER THAT NUMBER IS ILLEGAL UNDER THE CBA. THE ONLY WAY WE COULD DO A SIGN AND TRADE IS TO GET RID OF A COMBINATION OF PLAYERS FIRST, THEN PROCEED WITH THE SIGN AND TRADE, THEN BE FORCED TO SIGN REPLACEMENT PLAYERS FOR THE LEAGUE MINIMUM.
This scenario I am sure has been gamed out already by Peter Dinwiddie, Kevin Pritchard, etc etc, and I view this as extremely unlikely. I just don't see any scenarios where we release/salary dump or stretch multiple guys just to gain Gerald Henderson or someone like that back in return.
I suppose that Indiana could see some value in gaining back certain players back from Charlotte, but what is the incentive for the Hornets to trade good players back to us? There isn't any.
I see less than a 1% chance of this turning into a sign/trade. In other words, it isn't happening, at least not in a Stephenson scenario.
6. Now what do we do?
Our choices are:
A: Make a trade, likely using either Copeland or Scola.
B. Sign a minimum free agent, likely a veteran guy who can help us....remember, a vet has to want to sign here and live in Indianapolis. Not everyone will want to do that obviously.
C. Roll with what we have for now and see what happens.
Let's examine those possibilities:
A: Somewhat realistic trade targets I like, or at least don't hate:
Alec Burks, Utah..........Austin Rivers, New Orleans.........JJ Barea, Minnesota.........Jeremy Lamb, OKC......Norris Cole, Miami...........Evan Fournier, Orlando............Jared Dudley, LAClippers.........Gerald Henderson, Charlotte..........Archie Goodwin, Phoenix
Burks is a RFA after next summer,and it is unlikely Utah will be able to afford him long term. Could be available, though I fail to see what we could offer that they would want. I view him as unlikely.
Rivers I didn't like out of the draft and so far he has proven me correct. Still he is young, and maybe a change of scenery and playing for a quality team can salvage him. Rivers is very very available. I think this move is feasible if Indiana likes him as a player.
Barea is a veteran with a championship in his pedigree. I fail to see how we acquire him, or what we'd have that Minnesota would want. I view this as unlikely.
Lamb is interesting. I don't love the player, but OKC is a team that might like a Luis Scola or Chris Copeland. Lamb didn't deliver for them in the playoffs last year, and could theoretically be available. This move is at least feasible.
Cole is also interesting. I doubt Miami would move him to us, and I doubt we'd deal with them, and I don't see a particularly good matchup for us......but would Scola for Cole be all that bad? That move would likely mean George Hill plays a lot of 2 guard for us.....
Fournier I believe is a high quality player ready to break out on the right team, unfortunately Orlando thinks this also, which is why they traded for him 3 weeks ago. Sadly, I don't see Fournier as obtainable any longer.
Dudley for Scola actually makes sense for the Clippers, as they need another bigger guy in LA. Dudley doesn't do anything for me personally, but maybe he could play some wing minutes here. I'd pass on this offer if I were Indiana unless I got a Wilcox or Bullock as well.....which I do think is feasible. We will see.
Henderson for Scola does at least make some logical sense for both sides. If they would rather have a veteran backup playing instead of a Vonleh or Zeller this year, maybe Scola would look good to them. Or they could just cut Scola and save cash by ridding themselves of Henderson's contract, which is superfluous now to them. Henderson is a high character guy who's father played with Bird in Boston......I'm not excited about this move particularly, but at least I see it is a possibility.
Archie Goodwin is who I really want. Goodwin is just 19, and likely isn't close to helping us this year....but his upside is still very high in my opinion, and with all of the perimeter guys ahead of him in Phoenix I wonder if he could be pried loose. Goodwin has enormous potential in my opinion, he is just a longer term project that likely doesn't help us immediately. Still, if Phoenix would like either Scola or Copeland for him, I'd do that in a heartbeat. If you are looking for a future Lance Stephenson, Goodwin could be your guy. Would Phoenix actually move him here? I doubt it......my guess, I think the Suns end up making a major offer for Kevin Love eventually, and that Love ends up in the valley of the sun, with Goodwin part of the package heading north.
B. Best guess, none of those trades happen, as much as I'd love to see Goodwin here in Indianapolis.
So, that leads to potential minimum signings for veterans. Here are some choices:
Rasual Butler.........Rodney Stuckey........Jameer Nelson........Shelvin Mack.....Orlando Johnson
Butler played here last year, knows the system and knows his role. Would I sign him? No.
Rodney Stuckey is younger and can give you some flexibility. Sadly he can't shoot well, and would hurt our floor spacing. I doubt he would sign here anyway but for a minimum deal he'd be ok.
Jameer Nelson would come right in and start in my opinion, and we'd then move George Hill to the 2 spot. I'd love this move as I like Nelson as a player and think he is a very high quality character guy. He has deep ties to Florida though, and I suspect that he might end up in Miami instead of here. But if Nelson wants to come here, then this is a move I would whole heatedly endorse as a short term solution. A sign and trade by Orlando would be ideal, we could move a future 2nd rounder or something to pay him 1.5 million or so.
Shelvin Mack is a restricted free agent, would Atlanta just match a minimum offer? Probably, so we'd have to do this as a sign and trade. No idea if he'd want to come here or if Atlanta would entertain such a move. Mack played at Butler, so at least he may have some reason to want to play in Indianapolis possibly for cheap money.
Orlando Johnson has been here, knows our system, and maybe can provide backup minutes while being a high character guy.....worth watching.
So of all of these possibilities, the ideal scenario in my judgment, would be to both sign Jameer Nelson to the minimum (or do a sign and trade with Orlando for a bit more than that as explained above), and to somehow steal Archie Goodwin from the Suns.
Will the Pacers be thinking like I am? Probably not, but you can be certain they are investigating the possibilities this morning, and likely have scenarios in play already.
You know what will be the most important thing that happens to Indiana this summer though? It wont be Stephenson leaving, and it won't be how we respond in kind.
The most important thing that will happen this summer is Paul George playing for USA basketball, and how he relates and makes friends with his current teammates. The relationships born out of playing for your country have proven to be very important for how teams are built through free agency, and who George becomes friends with and can convince to come play with him in Indiana eventually is likely to be the key to whether we ever actually become a championship team here.
Letting Stephenson go potentially gives us much more flexibility financially going forward, AND it rids us of a player who may have the perception in the league of not being enjoyable to play with on a day to day basis.
With Hibbert and West each having short term large contracts with opt out clauses after next year, either in the summer of 2015 or the summer of 2016 Indiana will have significant cap room to be players on the free agent market, and they will have a top 10 NBA player already signed long term in Paul George to have as a recruiting tool. More than the money and more than the location, Indiana can offer potential free agents a chance to play in what is considered to be the greatest arena in the league, with a legitimate top NBA player in his absolute prime, and to play for a legendary figure in charge of the organization.
None of that will matter more though than who George seems to really hit it off with this summer. I have no idea who that will be, but the stories behind the stories will be worth watching this August. Ideally George can become BFF's with a 2nd star player that he can attract to play with him eventually. Speculating on names is pointless but fun, so feel free to do so if you wish.
Do not despair today, Pacers fans....the future is still bright for us this year and going forward. Lance Stephenson was exciting to watch and played with no fear, which I enjoyed having on our team.
But the "energy" I keep reading many of you say that he provided confuses me a little. I think what really happens is that he gave YOU or gave FANS energy. I would in fact argue that with his teammates and his coaches that he actually TOOK energy from them, from all of the time and effort it took to keep him focused, on the straight and narrow, to keep from imploding, to all the other antics that came along with his effective but quirky personality.
Replacing a high maintenance player with a low maintenance one does have residual positive effects on a team dynamic, at least in my perspective and experience. I don't expect Indiana to miss a beat next season, as I actually believe that from a basketball perspective that losing Lance can help change the geometry of the floor in a positive way for our other guys, as his tendency to lurk along the baseline was an floor space killer, and his wont to be an occasional ball stopper had ripple effects on how others played.
More importantly, I did not view Stephenson and George and Hill as an ideal pairing of personalities and skills, at least not meshed well enough to get us to a title. Ideally I'd rather have a true "sniper" playing next to George at the 2, with a much better and more ball dominant creative player playing the "1". I'd then like to have George Hill coming off the bench and a dominant defender playing behind Paul George at the 3 (which we potentially have in Solomon Hill, according to reports of him becoming a top wing defender). That would be the ideal perimeter configuration to maximize Paul George, and working to make your superstar as comfortable as possible is what you need to do.
Indiana does not yet have the exact right pieces around PG, but they have a start, and now they have the financial long term wherewithal and openings to being to work to make that happen next summer and beyond.
Now, if you want to argue that Indiana's ceiling is now lower in 2014/2015, I won't argue that point. Clearly losing Stephenson reduces that ceiling for this year, but I don't think it hurts us much going forward, as long as we are able to build this thing correctly around Paul George. And while I think Stephenson gave us a chance to have a small window to perhaps make the finals out of the East this season, that chance was no sure thing at all anyway.....and I suspect in 12-24 months that we will be glad that Stephenson isn't here, based on the opportunities that will present themselves.
And speaking of this year, while I no longer truly believe we can make the finals, I still buy in to us being a 50 win team next season, winning a play off series or even making the conference finals again. I expect big improvement from Paul George, and I hope Solomon Hill's defensive abilities are true from what the coaches are saying. Solomon Hill being a defensive bulldog and allowing PG to focus on scoring more often instead of guarding the opponents best player will improve us more than anything else would have.
We have top 10 player, in my opinion a top 5 coaching staff, a stable front office, and flexibility going forward while playing in a great arena with high character guys all over our roster. Remember that today when you are reading elsewhere that the sky is falling.
This time until next time.........