While the Eastern conference improves, the Indiana Pacers took a step back.
The Charlotte Observer reported that the Hornets will sign former Pacer guard Lance Stephenson to a three-year deal, worth $27.5 million, including a team option for the third year.
After the “blowing” incident with LeBron James during last season’s conference finals matchup with the Heat, Stephenson has become better known for his extracurricular hijinks, than his on-court performance. Disruptive tendencies aside, the deal is a relative steal for the Hornets and a significant loss for the Pacers.
Stephenson, who turns 24 next season, played a key role for the Pacers, often serving as their de facto playmaker. His numbers improved across the board and led the team in rebounding (7.2) and assists (4.6), while scoring 13.8 points per game on 49.1 percent shooting. When Stephenson was on the floor, he assisted on 22.1 percent of his teammates’ field goals, which ranked 16th in the entire league, for players who were on the court for at least 2,500 minutes. (John Wall led the league in this category with 40.5 percent.)
Stephenson ranked fourth on the team in total win shares (7.4) and was one of the best second-tier free agents available.
As Ian Levy at Nylon Calculus pointed out, Stephenson was only an above average shooter from two spots on the court last year— the right corner and at the rim. However, given his growth last year and his age, it would be reasonable to expect an improvement in this department. For a young Hornets team that lost one of the best passing big men in the league in Josh McRoberts, Stephenson’s addition should prevent a drop-off, and could, in fact, lead to a better record next season.
Meanwhile, for the Pacers, it’s hard to imagine the team will not fall in the rankings. Cleveland and Chicago have both improved their rosters. You could make a convincing case that the Wizards and Bobcats improved as well after their most recent batch of signings. Even Miami has navigated the LeBron departure reasonably well.
For a Pacer team dealing with the uncertainty of Roy Hibbert’s recent play and struggled to score even when Stephenson was on the roster, its offense could get even worse. Last season, Indiana scored 104.7 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 23rd in the league.
The team has $65 million in committed salaries next season and the free agency market is not exactly flush with shooting guard talent. Stephenson reportedly turned down a five-year, $44 million offer from Larry Bird, only to sign with Michael Jordan. It looks like Jordan has the upper hand once again.