Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson has been a high-maintenance young player in his two years with the Indiana Pacers. After struggling through his rookie season without playing much but still managing to drive a few teammates nuts, Stephenson stayed around Indianapolis and went to work.
He kept working on his game throughout the lockout and last season when after being afforded some minutes in the early part of the season, he found himself back on the bench when the games started to become meaningful. Stehpenson remains in Indy to keep working at the Knox Pro Am games and the Fieldhouse.
Honestly, since starting off no the wrong foot his rookie season, Stephenson has done just what you would hope as far as putting in the work and keeping his mind on the game and his career. But his contract heading into the upcoming season is not guaranteed and his guardian angel at the Fieldhouse, Larry Bird is not going to be around.
So when I hear coach Dan Burke talking about Stephenson playing in the Orlando Summer League and the expectations they have for him to lead the team and show some growth in areas not directly related to on-court basketball skills it makes me wonder if, by setting up this challenge for Stephenson this summer they aren't instead setting him up to fail which would support letting him go before the next NBA season starts.
Summer league play is not a direct correlation to play in the NBA and I certainly wouldn't want my future hinging on how things go down in Orlando. There are players scrapping for jobs both on the Pacers summer roster and on other teams. They aren't looking to develop great chemistry and become a cohesive unit. Players looking for NBA roster spots are primarily concerned with impressing scouts and coaches on hand, hoping for a call to go to camp in October.
Expecting Stephenson to lead a team that doesn't necessarily want to be led is tough. Stephenson is a bit of a lightening rod because of the flashes of talent and his name, but he could put it all together and be an impact player for the Pacers which would make anything he does in Orlando from a leadership standpoint moot. Keeping him on the roster is almost easier to justify since his salary ($870,000) makes barely a mark on the cap. But looking at things from a different angle, the team may simply be ready to move on from the Stephenson experiment and using Orlando to give him a chance to perform in front of the rest of the league.
That would be much more fair than forcing him to earn his spot by trying to lead a summer league team.