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Lance Stephenson is the Pacers’ fork in the road

Jun 2, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

Miami fans Miami fans

If the Pacers re-sign Lance Stephenson, they’ll have $5,305,000 to sign a free agent.

If the Pacers don’t re-sign Lance Stephenson… they’ll have $5,305,000 to sign a free agent.

Indiana will be over the cap even if Stephenson walks, meaning there’s minimal advantage to letting him leave – unless losing Stephenson is an advantage itself, which maybe.

Stephenson spent the Eastern Conference Finals trying to tweak LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Erik Spoelstra. Instead, he just ended up bothering his president and coach.

It reached the point the Pacers’ top player, Paul George, doesn’t sound certain he even wants Stephenson back. And Stephenson had already gotten on the bad side of a couple other teammates.

So what should Indiana do?

The Pacers can’t trade Stephenson before free agency begins, and then it can only be in a sign-and-trade. That would require Stephenson wanting to join a team that lacks the cap room to sign him outright, that team wanting Stephenson, that team negotiating a trade with Indiana and Indiana accepting. A sign-and-trade could be great – potentially the answer to all the Pacers’ problems – but there so many hurdles to that transaction, they can’t make a plan counting on it.

Without a first-round pick, Indiana has few means to better its roster otherwise.

The simple answer is just to re-sign Stephenson and hope for the best.

But another, though more complicated, option exists.

It involves creating cap room.

Stephenson has a hidden value, but the Pacers aren’t positioned to take advantage of it.

All free agents continue to count against the cap until signed or renounced. How much a free agent counts against the cap is based on the terms of his previous contract, but he always counts at a number higher than his previously salary. So, usually, that free agent amount is cumbersome to the team.

However, when a player was drastically underpaid before becoming a free agent, his cap hold can become a tool. That’s the case with Stephenson, who was still playing on the contract he signed four years ago as a second-round pick. Stephenson will count just $1,909,500 against the cap this summer until signed.

Let’s say Stephenson’s starting salary in his next contract is $9 million. That means Indiana can leverage an extra $7,090,500 in flexibility (the difference between his actual starting salary and cap hold).

But that $7,090,500 only matters if it contributes to already-existing cap space. E.g., a team at the cap line has no more ability to sign a free agent than a team $7,090,500 over the cap line. Both can use just the mid-level exception – exactly where the Pacers tand now.

So, how can they get below the cap?

Using the latest salary-cap projections and salary data from ShamSports.com, here’s an example of a two-trade plan that would net Indiana its desired cap room:

Trade 1: Roy Hibbert to the Trail Blazers for Robin Lopez, Joel Freeland and Will Barton

Portland nearly signed Hibbert two years ago and only didn’t because it was clear the Pacers would match. The Trail Blazers clearly like him. Hibbert had a rough finish to the season, but he’s still an All-Star an All-Star and one of the NBA’s best defensive players.

Lopez fit well into Portland’s system, and he’s a solid starting center. But the Trail Blazers struggled defensively for most of the season, and in Hibbert, they’d get a chance at an upgrade without surrendering much in the trade. All they’d have to do is pay Hibbert’s salary, but they were already willing to do that once, and he’s progressed extremely well overall since 2012.

Trade 2 (and 3*): George Hill, Ian Mahinmi and Chris Copeland to the Warriors for Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli, Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic

In Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford, Golden State has searched for a backup point guard who would allow Stephen Curry to play off the ball. Hill is a high-end version of that player – and probably better than whomever the Warriors could sign with the mid-level exception. (Depending on how they feel about the luxury tax, they could still use the mid-level exception too).

Though he won’t push David Lee to the bench, Copeland is the stretch four Kerr desires. And Mahinmi is a ready-to-go backup center.

Golden State would add salary in the deal, but the talent upgrade should outweigh that penalty.

Perhaps most importantly, these bigger contracts might even make a trade for Kevin Love easier to maneuver. Mahinmi, Copeland and/or even Hill could make salaries match with Minnesota.

 *Technically, these would need to be structured as two separate transactions – Hill into the Richard Jefferson trade exception as its own deal. But that’s only a formality.

The Pacers would then waive Luis Scola ($940,946 guaranteed), Donald Sloan and Barton and renounce all their free agents besides Stephenson.

That would leave Indiana $12,695,605 in cap room ($13,876,155 if Paul George doesn’t make an All-NBA team) to pursue Kyle Lowry or Eric Bledsoe, a restricted free agent.

After signing a free agent with that near-max-level cap room, the Pacers could then go over the cap to re-sign Stephenson and use the room mid-level exception ($2,732,000) to fill out the roster.

What’s preferable, Indiana’s current starting lineup or this?

  • Kyle Lowry or Eric Bledsoe
  • Lance Stephenson
  • Paul George
  • David West
  • Robin Lopez

Of course, there’s no guarantee the Pacers could sign Lowry or Bledsoe. The best fallback point guards would be Mario Chalmers or Patty Mills – steep dropoffs who would mean Indiana takes a step back.

But at least the Pacers, without Hibbert (two years and $30,412,969 remaining on his contract) and Hill (three years and $24 million), would be leaner going forward. David West (two years and $24.6 million) could be jettisoned for space in other versions of this plan. Either way, coming offseasons would present new opportunities to upgrade.

Sticking with the status quo wouldn’t be so bad, and it seems that’s what the Pacers will do.

But if Larry Bird decides this roster needs an overhaul, Stephenson’s ridiculously low cap hold gives him the perfect excuse to do it.

  1. 4thquartermagic - Jun 2, 2014 at 5:07 PM

    Still trying to make sense of the photo. Did an entire section of Heat fans pay homage to Lance?

    seems like he would be flattered to see his giant face in the stands as opposed to say Lebrons’.

  2. tombstone7 - Jun 2, 2014 at 5:09 PM

    Send LS to the D league for 3months… when he matures and ready to become a professional and leave the playground crap behind, then bring him in. Haven’t loss anything, maybe someone else might develop in his absence.

    needs to be more humble. ..

    • jkirby317 - Jun 2, 2014 at 5:43 PM

      Basketball is a game. He is playing a game. Who cares about the antics? The real question is why do you care?

  3. spursareold - Jun 2, 2014 at 5:16 PM

    It’s obvious why LS dropped into the second round. He’s obviously got bball talent, but what’s between his ears resembles Ron Ron. Indy should know better than to go down that path AGAIN.

    • jkirby317 - Jun 2, 2014 at 5:47 PM

      Way too easy to compare Lance to Metta World Peace. Interesting how it is “Ron Ron.” He changed his name LEGALLY to Metta World Peace.
      Donald Sterling’s real name is Donald Tokowitz but I bet you know him as Mr. Sterling.

      • duhwighthoward - Jun 2, 2014 at 5:55 PM

        And when you eat lunch with him, you call Magic “Earvin.” Sure, buddy.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 2, 2014 at 7:26 PM

        Magic Johnson never changed his name legally to “Magic.” That is his nickname.
        Ron Artest changed his name to Metta World Peace (like it or not!)
        C’mon DERR. You knew that.

      • denverhoopdreams - Jun 2, 2014 at 6:27 PM

        Why are you picking a fight over someone saying Ron Ron?

        I’m baffled.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 2, 2014 at 7:24 PM

        so it is okay to call certain people out of their names if you deem it okay?

      • azarkhan - Jun 2, 2014 at 7:36 PM

        I’ll continue to call him Ron Artest; I couldn’t care less about the silly name change. The real question is why do you care?

      • jkirby317 - Jun 2, 2014 at 7:41 PM

        Because there is a hypocrisy here.Everyone seems to be okay with everyone disregarding MWP’s decision to change his name saying they will “continue to do what has been done.” BS while never calling Donald Tokowitz (changed his name to Sterling)by his real name. It just seems off and unfair. Pick a lane and stay in it. Either we call everyone what there birth certificate says or we call them what the court says…but let us do it consistently and not let the color of one’s skin be an influential factor.

      • denverhoopdreams - Jun 2, 2014 at 8:27 PM

        You’re a troll. Horrible.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 3, 2014 at 6:42 AM

        and You are a RACIST

      • leahcima1 - Jun 2, 2014 at 9:42 PM

        Wow. Talk about a mountain out of molehill. Get a life kirby.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 3, 2014 at 6:43 AM

        its the same… but I’m glad you see racial discrimination as a molehill.

      • 00maltliquor - Jun 3, 2014 at 3:45 AM

        Woww, what in the world just happened here on this thread? lol

      • denverhoopdreams - Jun 3, 2014 at 9:15 AM

        What happened is, jkirby317 came on here trying to get a rise out of people by playing it off at first like he was an ignorant human being. 3 or 4 posts later he proved he is just on here trolling everyone.

        Dude comes from a part of the planet where nicknames are inappropriate, and real names are a must or it’s considered racism.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 3, 2014 at 9:21 AM

        Trolling everyone?
        People make comments…I reply. The website even tells me when idiots like you respond to my comments.
        No need to troll anywhere
        Say whatever you need to say to make you think you are not racist.

      • denverhoopdreams - Jun 3, 2014 at 12:55 PM

        Still trolling.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 3, 2014 at 1:15 PM

        it takes a troll to recognize a troll, I guess

      • denverhoopdreams - Jun 3, 2014 at 8:41 PM

        Sure thing, troll.

      • bougin89 - Jun 3, 2014 at 9:21 AM

        Wow, really great insight here Jerry Kirby haha.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 3, 2014 at 9:46 AM

        Still in your head, baby boy.

      • bougin89 - Jun 3, 2014 at 9:48 AM

        Settle down, Jerry. Don’t get all excited again.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 3, 2014 at 10:16 AM

        Don’t forget to mop the bathroom during your spare time at work today, baby boy.

      • bougin89 - Jun 3, 2014 at 11:00 AM

        Nice one, Jerry.

  4. ranfan12 - Jun 2, 2014 at 5:53 PM

    He’s the fork in the road when they lose, but he’s also one of the main energizers on the court. he’s been showing up in the playoffs more than roy hibbert has at least. larry can’t be giving him up unless it’s for something good. I think he’s going to stay

  5. bobmcbigballs - Jun 2, 2014 at 5:55 PM

    The Blazers will trade for Hibbert after that postseason? Really? These all sound like stretches at best.

  6. ravenswhat - Jun 2, 2014 at 5:58 PM

    They need deeper threats in that bench rotation. They 3 & D players like the heat have. When George or Stephenson come out, the team loses their identity. They need some scorers in that 7,8 spot.

  7. miamatt - Jun 2, 2014 at 6:10 PM

    If I’m in the mood for a fantasy epic, I’ll take Game of Thrones, thank you very much.

    • bougin89 - Jun 3, 2014 at 9:22 AM

      I still can’t get over the Sunday’s ending. It was incredible.

      • miamatt - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:56 PM

        No kidding. I woke up thinking about it. Horrible.

    • bougin89 - Jun 3, 2014 at 9:23 AM

      scratch *the* out of that last sentence

  8. jcrileyesq - Jun 2, 2014 at 6:11 PM

    Charlotte would be best place for Lance

    • whoisrdymlz - Jun 2, 2014 at 7:07 PM

      Don’t think they’ll want him unless he comes cheap enough to sign him and another impact player.

  9. jzone954 - Jun 2, 2014 at 6:20 PM

    To be honest unless Lance totally disregarded what Bird said, then why wouldn’t the Pacers resign him? Seems like he messed his own big contract up so he should be a drop cheaper, he performed extremely well for the Pacers. Unless he’s a complete cancer and suck to have as a teammate ,as only the Pacers players would know, then I don’t see why they wouldn’t try to keep him, who else is helping that team score and play defense?

  10. eugenesaxe1 - Jun 2, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    The Blazers wanted Hibbert before his Finals meltdown. His value has dropped.
    We happen to be quite high on Thrill Barton.
    Mr. Freeland, while not the second coming of Bill Russell, doesn’t disappear when needed the most.
    As for Fropez, he was the only major change to a line-up that enjoyed a +21win improvement over last year. He’s the guy LMA says made him better. He is arguably the most popular player in town, having achieved cult status in one season.
    In short, IND would have to pay us to take Hibbert.

  11. weaselpuppy - Jun 2, 2014 at 7:40 PM

    Someone got bored and wanted to torture the ESPN Trade Machine….yawn….waste of electrons here….

  12. enigma2742 - Jun 2, 2014 at 9:08 PM

    MIAMI HEAT HAVE THE DUMBEST FANS ON THE PLANET HOW IS A PICTURE OF LANCE STEPHENSON WITH A FINGER TO HIS MOUTH EMBARRASING THATS MORE LIKE FLATTERING TO HIM SMH

    • bcb11 - Jun 3, 2014 at 3:37 AM

      “Dumbest”: this coming from a guy who simply looked at a picture, and because of that decided to go screaming and railing on a blog against a group of people who are complete strangers to him, and whom he’s been told are all terrible fans. Did some fans (somewhere between a few hundred and 2000?) walk out before the end of Game 6? Yeah. Even if so many left though, the 15,000 (conservative number) that stayed are conveniently ignored by those praying at the altar of the narrative. Are some Heat fans bandwagoners? Sure. But even that’s not the unforgivable sin it’s often made out to be. Other teams have bandwagon fans as well, and as far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier. Before 2010, Miami was all but completely ignored in the national media (at least from where I was), with a ceiling no higher than first round fodder for teams like the Celtics and the Hawks. Maybe there weren’t as many Heat fans back then; still, in the games I was fortunate enough to watch, there were fans in the stands.

  13. sumkat - Jun 2, 2014 at 11:04 PM

    The Paradox that is Lance Stephenson. If he wasn’t such a knuckle head, a dozen teams would throw huge contracts at him. But if he wasn’t such a knuckle head, there would be no question that the Pacers would resign him. Even as such a knuckle head, one or two teams are going to throw big contracts at him.

    The only questions are, who does it, do the pacers match, and do they regret it later (and if so, how much).

    To me, this guy has too much Ron Artest in him to give a big contract

  14. pistolpete0903 - Jun 3, 2014 at 12:35 AM

    Knuckle-heads can be reigned in. Remember MWP (or Ron Artest for some), when he was in LA with Kobe and the Zen master. His talents were utilized properly.
    As I said in one of my previous posts, this Pacers team is very young (bar David West), and the coach is also a relative green horn. Bird might want to seriously think of hiring a new coach.
    Bottomline, re-sign him (at the right price)

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