In an offseason full of intriguing moves, the Pacers decision to let Lance Stephenson get away is one of the stranger decisions so far.
Stephenson signed with the Charlotte Hornets early this morning for three years, $27 million. The Pacers offered Stephenson five years, $44 million — slightly less money per year than the Hornets, while trying to lock him down long-term. That’s not even Chandler Parsons money. Essentially, the Pacers got outbid by $1 million for their second-best player, and should expect to take a massive step back next season as a result.
The upcoming season is the most wide open the East has been in years. LeBron James is back in Cleveland, but his supporting cast is younger and less talented (arguably) than the one he left behind. Miami is banking on veteran experience to get them back to the top. The Bulls are probably the favorite, but lost out on Carmelo Anthony, who would have vaulted them into title contention. The Knicks are the Knicks. The Nets are the Nets. If the Pacers wanted to match their (regular) season results from last year, retaining Lance was a necessity. Now Paul George has to carry even more of the load.
Believe it or not, the Hornets — especially after adding Stephenson — are a dark-horse favorite to finish in the top-four this year. They were already a pretty stellar defensive team, and now they’ve got additional scoring and playmaking (not to mention attitude) in their new pick-up.
People talk about Stephenson having attitude problems. He’s 23 years old. Going to a team without a lot of veteran leadership may seem like a problem, until you remember that veterans did little to help Stephenson in Indiana. Give him time — or better yet, give him time, but a shorter amount of it, so you can cut ties/trade if things go awry. That’s what the Hornets did.
Making your roster worse while letting an in-conference opponent get better, simply because you wanted to lock your mercurial guard into a longer deal that might have looked like a worse idea over time anyway, during an off-season where almost everyone is taking two-year deals? That’s called screwing up, Indiana.
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