Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson will be an unrestricted free-agent this summer, and although his future with the Indiana Pacers is unclear, teams interest in acquiring the fourth year pro is crystal.
In his fourth year, Stephenson averaged 13.8 points and 4.6 assists, he’s now putting up 14.5 points and 4 assists per game in the playoffs. Stephenson brings a lot to the table, the 23-year-old 6-foot-5, 230 pound guard is a triple double machine and an habitual stat stuffer.
The NBA has projected a salary cap increase to nearly $5 million, with the cap projected to be $63.2 million and the tax level to be set at $77 million. For a small market team looking to avoid harsh luxury tax penalties, that could possibly spell Stephenson’s exile from the Pacers. Undoubtedly Stephenson will receive offers anywhere between nine to $12 million; a hefty increase from the $980k he’s banking this season. With Paul George’s maximum extension commanding 25 percent of Indiana’s salary cap, Stephenson seems like the odd man out. What’s also unaccounted for is George’s extension, which by CBA rules is eligible for a 30 percent increase due to Paul earning two All-NBA spots, which he’ll certainly complete this year.
That complicates the Pacers situation even further.
A saving grace for the Pacers is that under NBA regulations, they’ll have the ability to sign Stephenson to a five-year deal worth $44 million. However there will be dozens of teams ready to pay him more, which drives his market price up. He’ll most likely seek to be paid his market value.
Indiana also has eight million dedicated to George Hill, 12 million going to David West, and 15 million paid to Roy Hibbert. Four players account for over $50 million of their cap, not including 4.5 going to Louis Scola, four to Ian Mahinmi, three to Chris Copeland and a nine-million dollar qualifying offer for soon to be restricted free-agent Evan Turner.
Although Stephenson has insisted he will stay in Indiana, the aforementioned cap situation creates a cloud of doubt. Stephenson will deserve his pay raise, but Indiana will have to consider if he’s worth every penny and the penalty that comes with it. With 65 million in dedicated salary, the Pacers will have to decide if Stephenson is worth paying 12 million in addition to the penalty which would be around $2.50 for every dollar Stephenson pushes them over the cap. Pacers president Larry Bird and owner Herb Simon will have to decide if Stephenson is worth keeping around for almost three times the cost.
However the Los Angeles Clippers are making money hand over fist. According to Forbes, they’re ranked as the 13th most valuable team in the league, compared to Indiana who came in at the 22nd spot. A luxury tax hit in LA might not be as devastating as it would be in Indiana.
With an estimated $73 million in payroll, the Clippers situation isn’t very optimistic either, however the Clippers have a bit of dead weight they can remove. Assuming Willie Green’s team option won’t be exercised and Glen “Big Baby” Davis becomes an unrestricted free agent by declining his player option, the Clippers salary cap will sit a bit over 68 million. However they’ll seek to move Jared Dudley ($4.25 Million) and possibly Jamal Crawford ($5.4 million), which could free the space needed.
And Stephenson is just what the Clippers sorely lack.
A quick player capable of playing a slightly undersized small forward and an aggressive defender willing to lock down players at the small guard. Although some teams like the Dallas Mavericks have suggested they’ll dodge him due to Stephenson’s continuous displays of immaturity and a tendency to be hot-tempered, the Clippers could use some nastiness in their back court.
Don’t forget the Clippers are coached by Doc Rivers. He turns tantrums into tenacity. It’s what he does.
Another of his criticisms with the Pacers is that Stephenson tends to be a ball-stopper, but he’s not playing with a ball-dominant point guard in Indiana. It’s a bit of a free-for-all there. Matching him with Chris Paul and possibly Matt Barnes creates the best defensive back-court in the league and a speedy team in transition.
Stephenson is also pretty decent on the glass. He averaged seven rebounds in the regular season and is doing the same in playoffs. Clippers could use another body down there helping Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. His arrival would also push lights out shooter J.J. Redick to a reserve role, however, much-needed as the Clippers second unit lacked consistent motion and many times looked stale and lethargic.
All in all there’s a chance here. It’s also possible that the Pacers will sign Stephenson to a max deal and make every attempt to cut costs after. However, with the Pacers chemistry issues, a change of scenery is exactly what “Born Ready” might need.
And is there any scenery better than Los Angeles?