Pacers guard Lance Stephenson says that he’s confident he’ll be staying put, even though his bargain basement ~$1MM deal expires at season’s end. “It’s a long season, I’m not thinking nothing about contracts,” Stephenson said. “I’m going to stay with the Pacers, so I’m not even thinking about the contract.” Meanwhile, team president Larry Bird constantly tells Stephenson that he’s the next one to get a new deal after teammates Roy Hibbert, David West, and George Hill have all received contract extensions over the last two years. Barring something unexpected, it looks like Stephenson will be in Indiana for years to come. However, the same can’t be said for former franchise cornerstone Danny Granger.
After missing the bulk of 2012/13, Granger is in the final year of his contract. The Pacers have about $60.6MM in commitments for next season thanks to Granger and a few others coming off of the books, leaving them about $15MM shy of the luxury tax threshold – which they will not go over – with two notable players eligible for the open market. Stephenson probably won’t see $10MM+ per season, but a deal with an average annual value closer to $8MM would make sense for the 23-year-old. With a big chunk of their breathing room going to Stephenson and at least some of the remainder being allocated elsewhere, there isn’t a ton of space for Granger. Even if he halves his $14MM+ salary for this season, it’s an unlikely squeeze, barring a significant trade.
It stands to reason that Granger’s future rests upon how well he does when he returns to the hardwood in a couple of weeks. If Granger shows that he is still somewhat near his All-Star form, it’s hard to see the Pacers being able to carve out enough space for him. If he appears to still be a work in progress as he rehabs his patellar tendinosis, then the Pacers could conceivably find a way to keep him on a low-risk deal at the end of the season. Of course, there’s another possible outcome: Granger looks sharp over the first half of the season and becomes a strong trade chip for Indiana at the deadline. How will things play out?