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On Paul George, Non-NBA Basketball And Player Safety

When something like Paul George’s horrendous injury happens, some rush to judgement and have a desire for resolution or grandiose statements about what it could mean. I will refrain from all of that.

Paul George suffering a freak injury during a televised scrimmage does not change the likelihood of something like that happening in a similar event or in some other basketball activity moving forward. It just raises awareness of that possibility and potentially could actually lead to some positive changes in terms of on-court player safety.

Those who try to make analogies to the World Cup are trying to make fetch happen. For a large proportion of American players, international basketball and the FIBA World Cup just are not the most important parts of the hoops universe for them. That is their right and it would be fine if some or all players embraced playing for their country like so many other athletes in other sports. In the interim, the solution should be readily apparent even if some are uncomfortable with holding back on their hot takes.

The endgame in terms of international basketball is shockingly simple: celebrate those who choose to participate without vilifying those who choose not to. We have seen the potentially huge benefits of these events and more importantly the practices and everything else that go into them at various points in recent time from the legendary Dream Team practices to the rumored birth of the Heatles to increases in confidence for future MVPs Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. If an individual wants to take advantage of some or all of that, awesome. Put them on a Wheaties box and show how much we appreciate them doing so. All it takes is losing the potshots taken publically and privately against those who make a different choice. While I wish players like Kevin Love made their decisions earlier because of how a late pullout affects a national team, each person has the right to act in their own self-interest.

We will inevitably see some argue that professionals should not play internationally or that teams should be able to hold their players out. Limiting the field to one subset of individuals takes away some players’ ability to grow from the experience unnecessarily. Team USA creating a pool of talent can work beautifully here as they can just create a group of the best players who are interested in representing their country and work with who shows up regardless of where they play at any given moment. The United States has the good fortune of having enough elite talent to succeed without shaming those who turn the opportunity down for whatever reason.

The one concrete change I would like to see coming out of this incident is one many of us in the media have railed on for years: get everyone back off the baselines. As someone who has covered the Warriors with a press credential for five seasons, it has become a sadly common occurrence for there to be some sort of incident that inspires this reaction like a turned ankle or rougher than necessary fall. Sadly, my experience leads me to believe that the reason the stanchion and photographers are as close as they continue to be is not because it helps lead to a better product in any way, shape or form. Rather, those people and devices have to be closer to the action than the fans who sit directly behind them and teams want to maximize their revenue from those lucrative seats. At this point, enough is enough and it is time for a change. Move everything back and design future arenas with this understanding if teams want to maintain their current seat totals. The league has already had enough major wins in CBA negotiations to make profitability a far more likely result and should immediately take this small but useful step to eliminate the most preventable kind of player injury.

Obviously this injury carries major impacts for the Indiana Pacers and most importantly Paul George himself. Once we have a clearer idea of the exact injury and a recovery timetable, those topics can and will receive plenty of attention. For right now, I wish Paul George the absolute best while hoping for a full and complete recovery.

Grading The Deal: Lance Stephenson Leaves Pacers For Hornets

The Indiana Pacers must find a way to replace Lance Stephenson midway through the offseason. Stephenson has agreed to a three-year, $27.5 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets. The third season is a team option.

As my RealGM colleague Shams Charania reported, Stephenson met with Michael Jordan and other team officials in Las Vegas on Tuesday night when the offer was presented. The Pacers offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal shortly after free agency opened on July 1, but the two sides were not on the same page as time progressed. The Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks all had varying degrees of interest in Stephenson as well.

Stephenson’s agent, Al Ebanks, told Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star that his client was seeking a short-term deal, which explains why he wasn’t quick to take more guaranteed money from the Pacers with an additional two years of security. Stephenson will make $1.5 million more in Charlotte this coming season than he would have under the reported Indiana offer. The total value of the Pacers’ offer was $16.5 million greater.

Four years after Larry Bird gambled on Stephenson in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft, Stephenson is gambling on himself. Even if the Hornets exercise the third-year option on his contract, Stephenson will be an unrestricted free agent once again at just 26 years old.

Grade for Stephenson: B-

There are two reasons why Stephenson is taking a calculated risk. There will be a larger offensive role for Stephenson in Charlotte, which could increase his value down the line. In addition, the NBA’s current television rights agreement ends after the 2015-16 season. Reports have indicated that the league will look to double the current fee, which would have a huge impact on future salary cap numbers and contract figures.

With that said, Stephenson is taking a chance. If he doesn’t continue to develop, which most expect him to do on a young, emerging team, he may not earn back the money he left on the table over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons (the back end of the initial Indiana offer). He also loses some the shine that comes from playing for a contender, which the Pacers may no longer be without him.

Ebanks stressed Stephenson’s desire for a shorter term deal than the Pacers offered, but the elephant in the room is the fact that he didn’t get that much more money. The average annual value of the Charlotte deal is just $300,000 greater than he have earned with Indiana. That leaves us to decide whether Stephenson was left hanging when the market died up and the Pacers moved on, or he truly valued hitting the market again in three years over waiting until his late 20s.

The Pacers will undoubtedly miss Stephenson, who provided much of their edge during the 2014 postseason, but it seems plausible that one of two things happened during negotiations. They pulled $44M offer off the table when Stephenson hesitated, or they offered him a five-year deal knowing full well that he wasn’t going to sign a contract of that length. Either way, Bird made a decision on how he valued Lance and didn’t budge.

I reached out to both sides asking if Indiana’s initial offer was still on the table up until the Hornets agreement, but both declined to comment.

Grade for Pacers: D+

Indiana deserves some credit for standing firm with their offer, especially in team’s NBA, but this loss cannot be looked at solely in a vacuum.

The Miami Heat took a step back with the loss of LeBron James, opening up the short-term window for the Pacers to contend. When LeBron left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will need some seasoning before reaching an elite level, Bird and Co. should have seen it as an opportunity to finally get back to the NBA Finals. The Eastern Conference is no longer top-heavy, but with Stephenson re-signed the Pacers would have been the favorite among a number of possible contenders -- including Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and Toronto.

Chemistry will often be mentioned as a positive for the Pacers with Stephenson gone, but that’s overstated. He may have cost himself a few million with his antics against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, but Indiana will severely miss his offensive tools and competitive nature.

The Pacers had the best defense in the NBA in 2013-14, but they scored just 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 23rd. Stephenson was often the only player on the roster capable of jumpstarting Frank Vogel’s offense when it stalled. He is volatile, and at times selfish, but can be a creative and willing passer. He led the Pacers in assists this past season.

Indiana needed help on the offensive end, even after signing C.J. Miles and Damjan Rudez earlier this month, and the loss of Stephenson compounds the issue. Bird will almost certainly have to address the need via trade, unless the club is able to shed salary in a deal and sign a free agent outright. The market isn’t exactly flush with options at this point and if a cash-saving trade was easy, one might have already been made to free up space for a larger Stephenson offer or to target someone that is already signed.

Rodney Stuckey and O.J. Mayo have been mentioned in the past and present as options. Stuckey is a free agent, while Mayo would have to be acquired from the Bucks via trade.

Adding Stephenson looks like an odd move for the Hornets on the surface, but considering the current state of the Eastern Conference it helps their chances of making the playoffs for the second-straight season. Charlotte has Gerald Henderson and Gary Neal at shooting guard, which may mean a trade is forthcoming.

Signing Stephenson for roughly $9 million annually is good value, even if it carries risk as he becomes the second option on a good team after being the fourth option on a very good team.

Grade for Hornets: B

Kemba Walker, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, stands to lose the most. Stephenson is at his best with the ball in his hands, which will reduce opportunities for the third-year guard. Stephenson was Plan B for the Hornets, who signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $63 million offer sheet and then watched the Utah Jazz match it over the weekend. If the Jazz let Hayward go to the Hornets, Stephenson might have been forced to re-sign with the Pacers.

Like the Pacers, the Bobcats tend to struggle offensively. That means more latitude for Stephenson, but how will he handle himself without as much veteran leadership, fewer meaningful games and suddenly flush with cash remains to be seen.

The Market For Lance Stephenson

The most unpredictable and intriguing free agent of this summer's class could be Lance Stephenson.

Because Stephenson was a second round pick in 2010, the Indiana Pacers could lose a bidding war since he's an unrestricted free agent and just about to enter his presumed prime.

Larry Bird has publicly stated that the Pacers want to re-sign Stephenson, but doing so will be difficult because he figures to have several other teams aggressively pursuing him. Indiana has more than $50 million tied up in their four other starters -- Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill -- for next season, creating a significant salary cap/luxury tax dilemma.

Bird said Thursday night, after the conclusion of a draft in which Indiana traded their only pick (57th overall) to the New York Knicks for cash considerations, that he planned to negotiate a “very, very fair contract” with Stephenson. As those well-versed in the business of basketball know, where Stephenson is playing next season will be a result of what other involved parties -- agent Al Ebanks and the rest of the league -- think is a fair deal for the 23-year-old.

Stephenson’s age only adds to the allure of signing him. He was born in 1990, the same year as two 2014 second-round picks and he’s the same age as several other rookies. He’ll be in his fifth training camp before he turns 24.

For all his perceived faults, Stephenson has continually expressed loyalty towards the Pacers. He is aware that he is unlikely to find a better situation than he has in Indiana where he has established roots, personally and professionally, the staff largely laughs off his eccentric behavior and deep playoff runs are expected for several more seasons.

“The Pacers have made their position known on how they feel about Lance and we have made it clear that we have great respect for the entire Pacer organization,” Ebanks said via e-mail. “That respect and regard for the Pacers will serve as a yardstick as we explore the ideal situation for Lance.”

No matter how strong the mutual interest in between the Pacers and Stephenson, it’s money that determines most offseason decisions.

Indiana sits between $7 million and $8 million under the luxury tax threshold, but can create more room if they buy out Luis Scola. It would cost the Pacers about $1.9 million to buy out Scola's contract, but it would save them close to $3 million. Unless Bird and Co. pull off some arduous salary dumps, Indiana can only afford to offer Stephenson a starting salary around $10 million.

That sort of deal might be what Bird considers “fair,” but the rest of the league may have other ideas. There are a host of teams clearing cap space for guys like LeBron James, Carmeelo, Bosh and Wade and two different executives predicted in conversations that Stephenson could be a Plan B for a club that swings-and-misses on a superstar.

Timing will be key for the Pacers when negotiating with Stephenson, in large part because the list of interested teams figures to grow as free agency progress. They are well aware that they must strike quickly, which is why they have a full-court press planned to stroke Lance’s ego shortly after midnight.

Stephenson was a borderline All-Star in 2013-14, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists. No player in the NBA had more triple-doubles. He was often the only member of the Pacers capable of jumpstarting a below-average offense.

He is known has ‘Born Ready’, but Stephenson has put in the work required to improve in each of his four seasons. He has been a mainstay at Bankers Life Fieldhouse during summers, while watching his shooting percentages (overall and from three) increase every year. Frank Vogel may have worried about his antics from time-to-time, but he never had to concern himself with Stephenson’s effort.

Valuable on both ends of the floor, Stephenson is most dangerous offensively when he has the ball in his hands. That fits well with Indiana’s current scheme, where George Hill is only a point guard because he’s the smallest player among the starting five. Stephenson logged a lot of minutes with the second unit, giving him the ability to operate as the main playmaker with C.J. Watson spotting up a lot.

Stephenson’s usage rate is lower (19.4%) than most would assume, even though he led the club in assists and was third in scoring. The Indiana roster wasn’t constructed to get the most out of him, but it has shown an ability to foster efficient productivity from the Brooklyn native.

Even before free agency began, a host of teams were either linked to Stephenson or mentioned as potential landing spots. The Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Pelicans and the Charlotte Hornets have been most often mentioned.

There is varying legitimacy to reports linking the guard to those seven teams, but while speaking to a handful of executives over the last several weeks the Pistons, Lakers and Hornets were the clubs perceived good fits for Stephenson if he doesn’t re-sign with the Pacers. All three of those teams have the ability to outbid Indiana, which may be one of the main reasons why they are seen as a fit.

There is very little sentiment around the league that Stephenson cost himself a significant amount of money with his antics in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. “We could be talking about a few million over the life of a contract, but nothing major,” a source told me.

His flopping battle with Wade and infamous blowing in the face of LeBron were Internet favorites, but many decision-makers simply saw a vicious competitive streak. On a team that lost their way over the second half of the season, Stephenson was simply trying anything to get Miami off their game.

Stephenson would best fit on a team that has an established core, not a young, rebuilding team that may still lack an identity. That’s why the Pacers have had success with Stephenson, especially early this past season when George was a strong-minded MVP candidate and Hibbert a confident, Defensive Player of the Year favorite.

It all comes back to the Pacers, who are going to have to offer Stephenson an escalating contract even if they make additional room with a Scola buyout. The first contract he signed with Indiana was extremely team-friendly -- he’s made only $3.5 million over four seasons. He figures to make that much within a couple months in 2014-15.

A four-year, $50-plus million deal with a starting salary in seven figures that reaches around $15 million in 2018 will probably be the best the Pacers can do. West and Hibbert will come off the books after the 2015-16 season, allowing Indiana to offer an average salary around $12 million without having to pay him that much in the first two seasons.

Does Stephenson want to remain with the Pacers badly enough to take less money than he might be able to get elsewhere?

Will Indiana’s best offer be all they can offer without handcuffing themselves over the short-term?

Does Bird even truly want to bring the entire band back together for another run at that elusive title, or is he playing possum?

If the Pacers and Stephenson have been sincere in their desire to remain together, it won’t take long to find out if dollars and cents will keep them from doing so. The Pacers already have a dollar figure in mind and few have entered into a stare down with Bird and come out the winner.  

Lance Stephenson is about to get paid, but by which team?

David West Plays Vital Role In Helping T.J. Warren Realize NBA Dream

T.J. Warren is the first player drafted that worked directly with David West through his AAU Garner Road Basketball Club program.

The Present And Future Of Lance Stephenson

For all the trouble and ‘lines-crossed’ that Lance Stephenson brings to the table, it is easy to overlook that he is only 23 years old and still learning how to be a professional. In this day and age in the league, young talented swingmen don’t grow on trees, especially not one in the second round.

Why Lance Stephenson Will Be Worth Every Penny

Just like Lance Stephenson, James Harden excelled in the role he was forced to play on the team that drafted him, but he was ready for a much bigger role. Don’t mistake opportunity for talent, especially not with a 23-year-old.

Heat Throttle Pacers, Who End Once-Promising Season Miserably

The Pacers owned the first four minutes of Game 6 before the Heat turned on the jets and coasted into the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row.

George Erupts In Fourth, Pacers Hold On To Force Game 6 Against Heat

Paul George scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and LeBron James was hampered by foul trouble as the Pacers topped the Heat to force a Game 6 back in Miami.

Pacers Wallow Through Game 4 Loss, Face Early Elimination Against Heat

Chris Bosh scored the game's first eight points and the Heat never looked back in Game 4, pushing the Pacers to the brink as the series moves back to Indianapolis.

Pacers Lose Control In Second Quarter, Heat Dominate Second Half To Win Game 3

After the Pacers built a 15-point lead in the second quarter, Ray Allen helped the Heat put them away with a three-point barrage midway through the fourth.

LeBron, Wade Dominate Late, Pacers Miss Chance To Take Commanding Lead

The Pacers were a few minutes away from taking a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade went on a game-winning run to save the Heat.

Pacers Come To Play, Take Game 1 Against Heat

The Pacers took Game 1 against the Heat thanks to their best offensive effort of the postseason, shooting 52% and assisting on 23 of their 35 field goals in a 107-96 victory on Sunday afternoon.

West Takes Control, Pacers Respond Late To Eliminate Wizards

David West put the Pacers on his back when the Wizards briefly took the lead in the fourth quarter of Game 6, ensuring a long-awaited rematch with the Heat.

Wizards Outwork Pacers, Dominate Game 5

With a chance to send the Wizards home, the Pacers showed little effort or energy in a 102-79 loss in Game 5. They are now headed back to Washington, D.C. with all their momentum gone.

George Refuses To Lose, Pacers Storm Back In Game 4

The Pacers are one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals after rallying from a 19-point deficit in the third quarter on Sunday night to take Game 4 over the Wizards.

Pacers Win Low-Scoring Game 3 Over Wizards

The Pacers scored 51 points in the second half to beat the Wizards in Game 3, which featured some historically bad offense.

Hibbert Rises, Pacers Earn Split Heading To D.C.

Roy Hibbert responded to his critics with 28 points and nine rebounds when the Pacers needed him most, leading his team to an 86-82 win over the Wizards in Game 2.

Pacers Start Slow, Cough Up Home Court Once Again

Bradley Beal played like a postseason veteran in Game 1 as the Wizards beat the Pacers 102-96 and stole home court in the semifinals from the East's No. 1 seed.

George Stars, Pacers Reappear To Advance Past Hawks

Paul George capped off a strong seven games against the Hawks with 30 points and 11 rebounds and Roy Hibbert made an appearance as the Pacers won Game 7 at home.

Pacers Wake Up Late, Use Run To Force Game 7 Against Hawks

Trailing late, the Pacers closed Game 6 with a 16-4 run over the final three-plus minutes to beat the Hawks and force a deciding game back in Indianapolis this weekend.

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