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Pacers decline Lance Stephenson’s $4.3M team option

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The mercurial free agent guard may have to find out what sort of powers he has without his Pacers uniform, again.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Indiana Pacers - Game Six Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Indiana Pacers have declined to exercise Lance Stephenson’s $4.3 million team option for the 2018-19 season in order to maintain as much financial flexibility as possible, reports Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports.

“Can’t commit either way right now,” Kevin Pritchard said earlier in the offseason on ESPN 1070’s the Dan Dakich show with regard to Stephenson. “There is no doubt that he is important to us.

“He’s a Pacer.”

Having yet to be officially informed of Thaddeus Young’s decision on his $13.7 million player option before the arrival of the due date (June 25) to take action on the fan-favorite’s future with the team, letting the crowd-pleasing guard walk (again) is going to be a tough sell unless Indiana’s brass is confident they’re set up to have the cap space to go “big-game fishing” or at the very least can soften the blow with an upgrade.

The Pacers have been rumored to be among the teams showing varying levels of interest in Marcus Smart, and if that’s the case the potential would be there for detrimental redundancy in the guard rotation with two ignorable shooting threats, though albeit fierce competitors, on the roster.

Outside of transforming into Bankers Life Fieldhouse’s gladiatorial champion during the fourth quarter against the Raptors, Pistons, and Sixers, Stephenson was at his best last season when he was crashing the glass and leveraging his broad shoulders and brute strength to attack with purpose and focus off the pick.

Per Synergy, his passes to the roll-man created 1.086 points per possession, a mark which not only led the Pacers but also ranked 8th in the league among the 22 players with at least 185 possessions.

However, because the outlandish guard’s erratic style of play had a tendency to be prone to excess (he shot 28.9 percent from three yet he opted to hoist a higher percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range (.327) than Darren Collison (.323), who led the league in three-point shooting percentage), gerrymandering lineup combinations that provide floor spacing and restraint while maximizing the full-force of his dynamism can be a delicate balancing act.

Independent of what happens with Smart, Indiana’s backup guard tandem had the worst cumulative plus-minus (minus-112) of any two-man combination on the team last season among those with at least 800 minutes played, and Cory Joseph already exercised his player option to return next season.

Still, Lance was worth his low salary as a rotation player last season — especially in the hearts and minds of the fan base.

When asked at the team’s 2017 golf outing if he expects at this point of his career to stay with the Pacers long-term, Stephenson left nothing to interpretation:

“My plan is to retire here.”

Instead, Indiana’s brass made him an unrestricted free agent.

“This was a very difficult decision,” Pritchard said in a statement on the team’s official website. “but as free agency begins on July 1, we want to have flexibility so that we can prepare for all of our available options.”

Tyreke Evans and Will Barton are also expected to be two of the teams targets, per ESPN’s Chris B. Haynes.