There are many within the Pacers organization who don’t believe the team should give Lance Stephenson a lucrative long-term contract this summer when he hits unrestricted free agency, sources tell Mike Wells and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. The concern stems from a perception that he’s acted selfishly. Many within the franchise believe that he changed his approach on the court at midseason in an attempt to enhance his value as a free agent, which he thinks took a hit when he failed to be selected for the All-Star Game, Wells and Windhorst hear.
Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird indicated on multiple occasions early in the season that the team planned to re-sign the guard, who’ll command a significant raise from the $1MM he made this season. Bird has been mostly silent in the second half of the season as the Pacers flatlined and Stephenson’s game changed. His assist ratio dropped from 25.2 to 20.2, per NBA.com, as Wells and Windhorst point out. Teammates grew weary of his act, and the result was the opposite of what Stephenson apparently intended. His value reportedly slipped from that of a player capable of commanding eight-figure annual salaries to one likely to end up in the $7-8MM range. He tumbled from seventh in the Hoops Rumors Free Agent Power Rankings to out of the top 10.
Indiana has more than $60MM in commitments for next season, and while the rise in the projected luxury tax line to $77MM gives the team breathing room, a new deal for Stephenson, even at $7MM a year, would put a serious crimp in the Pacers’ flexibility. Ownership has taken a hard line against paying the luxury tax, so Indiana wouldn’t have much room for significant upgrades if Stephenson returns at market value next season.