The Mavs, Lance Stephenson & A 10-Foot Pole
The raw numbers are all in place. Lance Stephenson is 23. He is 6-5 and 205. The 2-guard seems completely capable of a statistical bust-out after this year averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 0.7 steals.
"He is immensely gifted,'' one Eastern Conference team scout told us. "Any coach would be tempted to want to help him reach that ceiling.''
Stephenson's above numbers represent career-highs across the board. He finished second behind Goran Dragic this year for NBA Most Improved Player. He led the league in triple-doubles with four.
And for most of the year, playing for a Pacers team that battled most of the season for the rights to be considered the NBA's best team, Stephenson was in the middle of it all. Stephenson was third on the team in scoring and second in minutes. He's got handles. He can create. He's a fine on-the-ball defender who probably needs to learn the intricacies of team defense ... but the Pacers' results were pretty good as he was.
Just after the All-Star Break, one NBA general manager told us of the Pacers' plans with him.
"They realize that other teams can make a big enough bid on Lance to make it very difficult for the Pacers to match,'' the GM said. "(Indiana) will sell him on the idea that basketball is all about chemistry an that he's being surrounded by a support group of players and coaches that suit him best. Their pitch will be about unity.''
A short couple of months later, the Pacers appear to be the most disjointed contender in recent memory. This is on many nights -- even in the playoffs and even in victory -- a chemistry experiment gone bad.
All-Star center Roy Hibbert doesn't appear to be trying during these most important games of his career. The unity appears to be eroding following the trade-away of team leader Danny Granger. Center Andrew Bynum, brought in on a flier, is destroying hotel rooms and maybe destroying the locker room. And, one of our sources insisted, star Paul George and "running mate'' Stephenson do not get along.
"They never have especially liked each other,'' the source said. "It may not be a matter of 'who is at fault.' But it's a fact. And it's always been a fact.'''
All the more reason Lance Stephenson -- presently making just $930,000 -- may be looking for an exit from "George's team'' come July 1.
So the Dallas Mavericks should vulture their way into this situation, right?
Not so fast. There are major issues at play here. Major obstacles. Problems to think through because this isn't "trading-card basketball.''
We've seen it speculated that Stephenson "might be worth $8 million per year.'' There is simply no way to pretend to be informed on what Stephenson could be offered. We know that Indy is traditionally frugal when it comes to budgeting and we know the financial commitment has been made to George, David West and Hibbert (though as poorly as Hibbert is playing, he might be vulture bait, too).
If a team (Dallas or whomever) decided Stephenson is "the answer,'' it can use a simple formula to blow him away with an offer that Indy is highly unlikely to match.
As a player with zero-to-six years of experience, Stephenson is eligible for a four-year contract that starts at $14.5 million and totals $62 million.
We thought that seemed excessive a few months ago ... but if the Mavs believed he could be Dirk's heir ... hey, it's worth a look.
Under such a plan, Lance would be anointed as Dirk's replacement, as a coming superstar, would be making more than Nowitzki, would be making more than Monta ... and after years of failing to lure free-agent stars to Dallas, maybe it's time to overpay to finally get one.
But what if the Pacers' chemistry problem is the result of Stephenson's immaturity? Or worse than immaturity -- something a player can grow away from -- what if it's incurable selfishness?
We've seen three glimpses of this in recent days.
Two weeks ago, on the eve of the start of the playoffs, Stephenson and Evan Turner were involved in a reported "fistfight'' at practice.
In Monday's Game 1 of Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs, Indy coach Frank Vogel brought Stephenson to the bench for a third-quarter break. Lance's protest of the coaching decision was so demonstrative it looked for a moment like he might refuse to exit.
Worse: In Game 7 of Round 1, Lance actually approached the scorers' table in the middle of the game to inform them that they'd improperly shorted him one rebound that he wanted credit for.
Could "The Culture of Dirk'' repair these problems? Could the mentorship of coach Rick Carlisle, who has had such a positive impact on guys like Monta Ellis, do the same?
And how many millions do you wish to bet on that outcome?
Ellis, by the way, should be mentioned in the evaluation of the Lance-to-Dallas idea. They play the same position. Now, as GM Donnie Nelson will tell you, he's in "the talent-acquisition business.'' But the Mavs truly believe that chemistry matters just as much as talent does. And while we're only guessing here, Lance Stephenson would enjoy coming off the bench behind Monta almost as little as Monta would enjoy coming off the bench behind Lance.
An NBA personnel man tells DallasBasketball.com: "A smart team isn't going to touch Lance Stephenson with a 10-foot pole.''
The Mavs, as you may know, consider themselves "a smart team.''
Dallas Basketball Top Stories
'Cautiously Giddy' About Mavs Seth Curry'Locked On Mavs' is cautiously giddy about Seth Curry, who dazzled in this week's open-practice scrimmage ...
Dallas BasketballYesterday at 3:00 AM
Mavs Deron Williams 1-on-1: Comfort At HomeDeron Williams is no 'Prodigal Son.' The Mavs point guard is, far more to the point, a caring father in search of 'comfort' while at the same time offering it. DB.com's 1-on-1…
Dallas BasketballThursday at 7:08 AM
Why Did Bogut Choose Dallas Over Houston?Locked On Mavs: Why Did Bogut Choose Dallas Over Houston? The Mavs Podcast Chops It Up ...
Dallas BasketballWednesday at 10:35 AM
Mavs Donuts: Your Training Camp Who's WhoMavs training camp is underway. ... 20 guys for 15 spots. 'Your Training Camp Opening Who's Who Primer' inside ...
Dallas BasketballWednesday at 5:28 AM