Pacers president Larry Bird has been dropping hints to Lance Stephenson that the team intends to take care of him in free agency this summer, as Stephenson tells Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star. Bird keeps telling him, “You’re next,” Stephenson says, likely in reference to the lucrative contracts the team has handed out the past two summers to Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill.
Stephenson is confident he’ll stay with the Pacers even though his bargain contract, which pays him slightly more than $1MM this year, expires at season’s end. The Pacers also have Danny Granger on an expiring deal, and with about $60.6MM committed for next season, it’ll be a tight squeeze to stay under the projected $75.7MM luxury tax line. Indiana’s brass has repeatedly expressed unwillingness to pay the tax, so it may come down to a choice between Stephenson and Granger, barring a trade to clear more room.
I doubt Stephenson will see a contract with an eight-figure annual salary, like the deals for Hibbert and West, but perhaps the club would be willing to do something similar to Hill’s $40MM deal, in which the team spread the money out over the maximum five seasons. That still wouldn’t leave much room for Granger if he returns to a form that’s at all close to what he exhibited before missing almost all of last season, but it would still give the team some breathing room to sign draft picks and other free agents.
Of course, the Pacers and Stephenson can’t sign a new contract until after the July Moratorium, more than eight months from now, and he’s ineligible for an extension, so plenty can change before pen hits paper. Stephenson left tonight’s game with a sore left knee, and while it doesn’t sound too serious, it serves as a reminder that a significant injury could prompt the team to change its plans.