Recently there has been a great deal of discussion about where rising Pacers guard Lance Stephenson will play next year after his current contract expires. Normally I get irritated about this type of speculation surrounding a young player who is the middle of a very good season, but really hasn’t totally proven himself yet. However, in this case, the speculation is warranted.
The Brooklyn product has had an absolute breakout year when he was expected to become just a good role player on a Pacers team with Eastern Conference title aspirations. When I say breakout year I mean a borderline All-Star who has cemented himself as a possible triple-double threat. More impressive than that is the fact that Stephenson has done this on a title contender rather than taking volume shots on a bottom feeding team.
So could this talented shooting guard be a missing piece to Sam Hinkie’s 76ers puzzle?
I will explore this scenario and what it could mean for the 76ers after the jump.
Stephenson has come a long way since his University of Cincinnati days where he was declared a selfish player with more baggage than Delta who would never succeed in the NBA. On the season he is averaging 13.7 ppg.; 5.2 apg. and 6.8 rpg. Stephenson is shooting the ball at a 49% clip from the field and 34% from three. Additionally, he boasts a PER of 15.55; and efg% of 53.8; a TS% of 56 and a 2:1 assist-turnover ratio. Needless to say those stats blow away his career averages. The issue for Indiana now becomes whether or not they will be able to keep this budding star for the long haul. Spoiler alert, it will be virtually impossible.
When the Sixers traded away Jrue Holiday last year it became clear the franchise was all in for the 2014 Draft. So let’s fast forward to the end of a season that was dedicated to draft positioning anyways. Let’s assume Philadunkia nation sees one of its dream scenarios come true and the 76ers draft either Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid or Julius Randle. That’s one piece of the puzzle. Nerlens Noel is another piece. Could Stephenson be a key piece too? Well, for all of this to happen, a few things would have to fall into place.
First off, Stephenson has to be available for the Sixers to sign, so how does that happen? Well, the Pacers face two very different roads when it comes to this dilemma. Because Paul George made the All-Star team this year, he is eligible for a three million dollar bump-up in salary. This means that Indiana would only be able to offer Stephenson somewhere around five or six million a year before they go over the luxury tax. If Landry Fields is making seven million a year then Stephenson is worth at least ten. Knowing this I would find it extremely hard to imagine Stephenson taking about fifty percent less than he is worth to stay in Indiana.
The other option for Indiana is to exceed the salary cap and use the infamous “Bird Rights” on Stephenson to re-sign their own player. More over, Indiana can offer Stephenson a five year deal where no other team can offer him more than four. If this were Brooklyn (a franchise run by a rich, crazy Russian) I would maybe consider that as a legitimate option. But that isn’t how Larry Bird and the Pacers do business. Thus I don’t see that scenario happening.
With Stephenson wanting more than $5million a year and Indiana unwilling to exercise their “Bird Rights” on the third year guard, the Sixers could swoop in and “over-pay” for Stephenson by offering him a 4 year, $50 million deal. With a core roster of a 2014 lottery pick (Parker/Wiggins/Randle/Embiid), MCW, Thad, Noel and now Stephenson, you have four potential 18+ point scorers as well as a 7-footer shot blocker anchoring the defense. Stephenson would also be a serious upgrade for the Sixers non-existent perimeter defense. And the best news is that even with Stephenson on board, Hinkie would still have $20 million in cap space to play with.
If Hinkie wants to have a young trio of Michael Carter-Williams, a 2014 Lottery pick (Wiggins/Parker/Embiid/Randle), and Stephenson, then the 7-6 simply can’t keep its current roster. In order to free up minutes and touches for Stephenson, Evan Turner should be the first player traded. Honestly he should be dealt for draft picks no matter if this Stephenson situation were to unfold or not. Let’s be honest with ourselves here, “The Enigma” is at peak value right now and Hinkie may never be able to get more in return for him than right now.
The next decision to be made in connection with the potential signing of Stephenson would be on the future of Tony Wroten. Obviously Wroten is on a cap friendly contract and he has shown flashes of being a solid player, so there is not a ton of downside to keeping him. But I wonder if Wroten would be effective playing on a team featuring two guards (MCW & Stephenson) who are at their best when they have control of the ball? The best person to answer that question is head coach Brett Brown and if I were Hinkie, I would give heavy weight to the head coach’s opinion on the “Does Wroten stay or go?” decision.
So what’s the probability of this Stephenson scenario playing out?
In my opinion it’s ten percent and here is why. Stephenson is better suited for a supporting role as far as scoring goes. The Sixers do not have an NBA caliber #1 option on offense. So, in order for Stephenson to thrive in a supporting role with the Sixers, Hinkie would have acquire a #1 scoring option through free agency (Not going to happen.) or more likely draft a legit scorer such as Parker (as opposed to Wiggins/Randle/Embiid).
The only problem with drafting a legit scorer like Parker is that there is now talk that the Duke forward as well as projected No. 1 pick Joel Embiid will both elect to not enter the 2014 Draft. Even if Parker stays in the Draft, there is a high probability (as the NBA standings sit today) that Parker will already be gone when Hinkie is on the clock.
In short, Stephenson doesn’t fit with the Sixers and it’s not his fault. The 76ers simply won’t have a star player / legit #1 option on the roster in 2014-15 for Stephenson to run with each night. Unfortunately for the 7-6, that second fiddle role is the where Stephenson is at his best.
Alex Gorge is a scribe for Philadunkia. You can follow him on Twitter @apg3000.
You can follow us on Twitter @philadunkia.