You either love Lance or you hate him. How you feel about Lance Stephenson inevitably acts like some sort of NBA Rorschach test, giving valuable insight to your personality and how you view the game of basketball. He can fly down the court by himself and finish like LeBron. But then he’ll sprint down court on one-on-three breaks and turn it over. He’ll throw no-look passes like Magic. And then he’ll throw a no-look pass into the fourth row. He’ll go off for 30 points. He’ll kill ball movement and be a ball hog. Lance Stephenson is one of the hardest players to understand. His talent is undeniable. His craziness is also undeniable. He’s one of the most unpredictable players and personalities in the league. He went from perhaps the most hyped up New York city high school prospect ever, to an underwhelming afterthought at Cincinnati, to a second round draft pick, to a benchwarmer in his first few seasons, to the first runner-up for NBA’s Most Improved Player this past season.
It’s rare to find an unrestricted free agent of Lance Stephenson’s ability at such a young age. He was nearly an All-Star this past season, but to some, that was actually a negative for his team. Stephenson set out to prove he was worthy of the All-Star team after the break, and his teammates thought he stopped passing the ball. Stephenson has several question marks, but none of them is about his talent level. Whether he can consistently play under control, coexist with other players, and handle the money of a star are all in doubt. Maybe more, it’s anyone’s guess whether Lance can stay on track without the likes of Larry Bird watching over him. So far, Stephenson has had to stay on track. Such is the life of a second round pick, where nothing is guaranteed. But getting a huge payday and a team built around him is enough to make NBA teams shudder.
The Pacers could try to re-sign Lance and build around a Paul George-Lance Stephenson nucleus, but there’s also a good chance someone will grossly overpay him. There’s some speculation that the Magic or Hornets could make a run at Lance. If Lance commands a $40+ million deal, then the Pacers can feel okay with letting him walk. He has All-Star talent, but he’s too risky and temperamental to make a serious investment in. Where would Lance fit? He is kind of like J.R. Smith. He’s a younger, more talented, crazier version of Smith. And like Smith, Stephenson needs to be surrounded by veteran leadership and players better than him. If Lance feels safe as the best player on a team, he will chuck and probably stat-hunt. But if he’s surrounded by a winning environment filled with older guys, then he can be the difference maker for a contender. Here are a few teams that could handle Lance:
Well, duh. They turn everything they touch into gold. The Spurs would never get within 100 miles of Lance, but if they did, they could make things work. Duncan and Popovich, along with all the other veterans who’ve just won a ring, would be able to control Lance and bring out the best in him.
Just kidding. But him and Westbrook would definitely be funny to watch.
This may not work, but CP3 and Doc are as good of leadership duo between player and coach as there is in the league. Lance could be the difference maker for the Clippers in the West. Lance would be a complementary piece on the Clippers, adding an edge to the team, but he may not settle for a lesser role. His career is on the ascent, and he most likely wants to take the next step to be the focal point of a team.
The Mavs have already stated they have no interest in Stephenson, but the way Mark Cuban has run the team lately, Stephenson would not be a bad fit for the team. Cuban is trying to surround Dirk with as much talent as possible and provide a few last chances at a title to appease Dirk before rebuilding once he retires. The Mavs turned around a similar player Monta Ellis’ career, and the combination of Dirk and Rick Carlisle could lead Lance in the right direction. Stephenson and Ellis in the same backcourt would either flame out, sort of like how Detroit’s Drummond-Monroe-Josh Smith lineups did, or it would be as dynamic as there is in the league and constantly put the defense under attack.
They couldn’t handle him, but this would be the funnest scenario. Born ready to dominate the Garden.