How is it that one can arguably be a team’s most valuable player, yet also clearly its most disruptive force?
Welcome, although maybe regrettably, to the spellbinding world of Lance Stephenson, a talent every bit as riveting as he proved to be revolting in the Indiana Pacers Eastern Conference Finals loss at the hands of the much despised Miami Heat.
For all the 23-year-old budding superstar’s gifts, his antics have now left him viewed among some as the worst thing that could have happened to the Pacers dimming chances of an NBA title.
Count revered Hall of Famer and current Pacers’ president of basketball operations Larry Bird among those not sure whether to shoot or pass, stop or go when it comes to Stephenson, a free agent upon the Pacers’ being again sent packing by the two-time defending champs.
Yes, the riddle of Lance Stephenson has fundamentally become that maddening. So much so that teams, including his own Pacers, are rumored to be considering extending him offers that venture into the multi-millions, yet before the end of any given game be so perplexed by his play and his actions they’re ready to simply let him walk and linger.
It doesn’t take LeBron James blowing smoke about Stephenson’s antics to know that by the end of Game 6 the stench of his actions had grown bothersome to pretty much everybody.
“I don’t know,” said All-Star forward Paul George, who along with Stephenson’s were the Pacers best players from start to finish in the series when asked if “Born Ready” would be back next season. “That’s for Larry Bird, (team general manger) Kevin Pritchard to decide.”
Stephenson’s averages of 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and a steal against the first team to put itself in position to record an NBA three-peat since Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers clearly illustrate he deserves more than the four-year, just over $3 million deal he netted in 2010 as a second-round draft choice from Cincinnati. But all his machinations and gyrations have just as clearly put his worth in question.
In the middle of a series that could have meant team’s first NBA Finals appearance since the days of Reggie Miller, the secret that everyone already knew the answer to was made public when All-Star center Roy Hibbert all but admitted it was Stephenson he was referring to when earlier this season he castigated his teammates as a bunch of “selfish dudes.”
Even Bird tried in vain to reel the free-agent-to-be in, counseling him about the virtues of being a pro’s pro before a close out game where he clothes-lined Norris Cole and slapped James in the face grill during a dead-ball encounter.
And still, Stevenson remained largely unrepentant. “I don’t think I act any way. I’m just very competitive. I don’t ever back down to anyone. I know some of the stuff looks bad, but that’s just my way of playing hard.”
And his way of being Lance Stephenson, the man who led the league in triple-doubles this season; Born Ready the talent that reigns as one of the league’s most versatile and still expanding. What’s a GM to do?