Lance Stephenson has made it abundantly clear that his preference is to remain a Pacer. In fact, he has been so adamant about his desire to stay in Indianapolis that earlier this season he told Pacers.com's Mark Monteith the following about his upcoming unrestricted free agency:
"I don't think about that. It's a long season, I'm not thinking nothing about contracts. I'm going to stay with the Pacers, so I'm not even thinking about the contract."
Going to stay? Does that mean he would turn down a larger offer to re-sign?
"I'm staying with the Pacers," he said.
Of course, stating one's willingness to stay on a championship contender and actually turning down other, perhaps, more lucrative offers in order to remain with said team are two very different things.
Last month, SI.com's Chris Mannix reported that rival executives are already projecting Stephenson to garner as much as $7-9M per year in free agency next summer. As it stands now, if the luxury tax threshold increases as expected, that figure appears to be a check that the Pacers could afford to write. However, that number is, of course, nothing more than an estimate. As a point of reference, consider that SI's Ben Golliver notes, in an article concerning Lance's potentiality to cash-in, that Monta Ellis, Kevin Martin, and O.J. Mayo each earned at least $7M per year last summer in free agency.
Does Born Ready have more untapped potential than these three above mentioned contemporaries?
With that line of reasoning, is it within reason that Lance's aforesaid projected payday could increase if he, let's say, makes the All-Star team, wins MIP, or, helps lead the Pacers to the NBA Finals?
What if some other large market team, with full knowledge that Indiana refuses to become a tax-payer, offers him an inflated contract in hopes of luring him away from the Pacers?
Well, according to the Chicago Sun Times, at least one rival team has already set their eyes on potentially signing Born Ready:
"If they fail to land a star of the magnitude of Anthony or James, there is a consolation prize. The Bulls would love to nab Lance Stephenson from the Indiana Pacers, move Jimmy Butler to the three and add highly touted Nikola Mirotic after using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer. That would give them a talented roster, but still not a great one."
After trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to shed salary, the Bulls will have the financial flexibility to make a splashy move next summer (not to mention they still have the option to amnesty Carlos Boozer).That being said, just because Chicago is capable of making a lucrative offer does not mean Lance has to accept it.
Maybe the answer to that question is Indiana's promise of a winning, stable culture. As Reggie Miller noted during TNT's broadcast of the Pacers/Knicks game, Lance is an "environment" player. Larry Bird also touched on this subject in a Q&A with Mark Monteith, stating:
"... Obviously I think this is the best situation for Lance. I worry about if Lance leaves here. This environment is absolutely perfect for him."
Would the Brooklyn native readily leave money on the table to stay with the team that took a chance on him?
That question is yet to be definitively answered; however, there is no doubt that Lance Stephenson will have several other suitors besides just Indiana next summer. If the Pacers want to retain the services of the league's ready-made, triple-double leader, they may end up having to overpay him in order to avoid seeing him don another squad's uniform next season. Like SI's Ben Golliver wrote, "Cultivating a five-man unit as good as Indiana's starters is the hard part; paying - or overpaying - to maintain it should be an easier decision."