Miami fans

Lance Stephenson is the Pacers’ fork in the road


If the Pacers re-sign Lance Stephenson, they’ll have $5,305,000 to sign a free agent.

If the Pacers don’t re-sign Lance Stephenson… they’ll have $5,305,000 to sign a free agent.

Indiana will be over the cap even if Stephenson walks, meaning there’s minimal advantage to letting him leave – unless losing Stephenson is an advantage itself, which maybe.

Stephenson spent the Eastern Conference Finals trying to tweak LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Erik Spoelstra. Instead, he just ended up bothering his president and coach.

It reached the point the Pacers’ top player, Paul George, doesn’t sound certain he even wants Stephenson back. And Stephenson had already gotten on the bad side of a couple other teammates.

So what should Indiana do?

The Pacers can’t trade Stephenson before free agency begins, and then it can only be in a sign-and-trade. That would require Stephenson wanting to join a team that lacks the cap room to sign him outright, that team wanting Stephenson, that team negotiating a trade with Indiana and Indiana accepting. A sign-and-trade could be great – potentially the answer to all the Pacers’ problems – but there so many hurdles to that transaction, they can’t make a plan counting on it.

Without a first-round pick, Indiana has few means to better its roster otherwise.

The simple answer is just to re-sign Stephenson and hope for the best.

But another, though more complicated, option exists.

It involves creating cap room.

Stephenson has a hidden value, but the Pacers aren’t positioned to take advantage of it.

All free agents continue to count against the cap until signed or renounced. How much a free agent counts against the cap is based on the terms of his previous contract, but he always counts at a number higher than his previously salary. So, usually, that free agent amount is cumbersome to the team.

However, when a player was drastically underpaid before becoming a free agent, his cap hold can become a tool. That’s the case with Stephenson, who was still playing on the contract he signed four years ago as a second-round pick. Stephenson will count just $1,909,500 against the cap this summer until signed.

Let’s say Stephenson’s starting salary in his next contract is $9 million. That means Indiana can leverage an extra $7,090,500 in flexibility (the difference between his actual starting salary and cap hold).

But that $7,090,500 only matters if it contributes to already-existing cap space. E.g., a team at the cap line has no more ability to sign a free agent than a team $7,090,500 over the cap line. Both can use just the mid-level exception – exactly where the Pacers tand now.

So, how can they get below the cap?

Using the latest salary-cap projections and salary data from, here’s an example of a two-trade plan that would net Indiana its desired cap room:

Trade 1: Roy Hibbert to the Trail Blazers for Robin Lopez, Joel Freeland and Will Barton

Portland nearly signed Hibbert two years ago and only didn’t because it was clear the Pacers would match. The Trail Blazers clearly like him. Hibbert had a rough finish to the season, but he’s still an All-Star an All-Star and one of the NBA’s best defensive players.

Lopez fit well into Portland’s system, and he’s a solid starting center. But the Trail Blazers struggled defensively for most of the season, and in Hibbert, they’d get a chance at an upgrade without surrendering much in the trade. All they’d have to do is pay Hibbert’s salary, but they were already willing to do that once, and he’s progressed extremely well overall since 2012.

Trade 2 (and 3*): George Hill, Ian Mahinmi and Chris Copeland to the Warriors for Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli, Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic

In Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford, Golden State has searched for a backup point guard who would allow Stephen Curry to play off the ball. Hill is a high-end version of that player – and probably better than whomever the Warriors could sign with the mid-level exception. (Depending on how they feel about the luxury tax, they could still use the mid-level exception too).

Though he won’t push David Lee to the bench, Copeland is the stretch four Kerr desires. And Mahinmi is a ready-to-go backup center.

Golden State would add salary in the deal, but the talent upgrade should outweigh that penalty.

Perhaps most importantly, these bigger contracts might even make a trade for Kevin Love easier to maneuver. Mahinmi, Copeland and/or even Hill could make salaries match with Minnesota.

 *Technically, these would need to be structured as two separate transactions – Hill into the Richard Jefferson trade exception as its own deal. But that’s only a formality.

The Pacers would then waive Luis Scola ($940,946 guaranteed), Donald Sloan and Barton and renounce all their free agents besides Stephenson.

That would leave Indiana $12,695,605 in cap room ($13,876,155 if Paul George doesn’t make an All-NBA team) to pursue Kyle Lowry or Eric Bledsoe, a restricted free agent.

After signing a free agent with that near-max-level cap room, the Pacers could then go over the cap to re-sign Stephenson and use the room mid-level exception ($2,732,000) to fill out the roster.

What’s preferable, Indiana’s current starting lineup or this?

  • Kyle Lowry or Eric Bledsoe
  • Lance Stephenson
  • Paul George
  • David West
  • Robin Lopez

Of course, there’s no guarantee the Pacers could sign Lowry or Bledsoe. The best fallback point guards would be Mario Chalmers or Patty Mills – steep dropoffs who would mean Indiana takes a step back.

But at least the Pacers, without Hibbert (two years and $30,412,969 remaining on his contract) and Hill (three years and $24 million), would be leaner going forward. David West (two years and $24.6 million) could be jettisoned for space in other versions of this plan. Either way, coming offseasons would present new opportunities to upgrade.

Sticking with the status quo wouldn’t be so bad, and it seems that’s what the Pacers will do.

But if Larry Bird decides this roster needs an overhaul, Stephenson’s ridiculously low cap hold gives him the perfect excuse to do it.

LeBron James says he rides a motorcycle

LeBron James
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LeBron James appeared in a GQ video, and as one of the hosts discussed his leather jacket, LeBron noted he should’ve ridden his motorcycle to the set. It seemed the Cavaliers star might have been joking, but a few seconds later, he explicitly said he owned a different, three-wheel motorcycle.

Asked what the team thinks of his riding, LeBron said:

Oh, man. They’re like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “What you think I’m doing? I’m getting a breath of fresh air. You know? I’ve got one life with this, man. So, that’s what I’m doing.”

It’s impossible to think of an NBA player riding a motorcycle without Jay Williams coming to mind.

Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in 2002, crashed his motorcycle after his rookie season and suffered career-ending injuries. The tragedy caused him to attempt suicide.

Thankfully, Williams – a college basketball analyst – appears to be doing better now. But that incident has left increased scrutiny on NBA players riding motorcycles.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement states (emphasis mine):

Accordingly, the Player agrees that he will not, without the written consent of the Team, engage in any activity that a reasonable person would recognize as involving or exposing the participant to a substantial risk of bodily injury including, but not limited to: (i) sky-diving, hang gliding, snow skiing, rock or mountain climbing (as distinguished from hiking), rappelling, and bungee jumping; (ii) any fighting, boxing, or wrestling; (iii) driving or riding on a motorcycle or moped; (iv) riding in or on any motorized vehicle in any kind of race or racing contest; (v) operating an aircraft of any kind; (vi) engaging in any other activity excluded or prohibited by or under any insurance policy which the Team procures against the injury, illness or disability to or of the Player, or death of the Player, for which the Player has received written notice from the Team prior to the execution of this Contract; or (vii) participating in any game or exhibition of basketball, football, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, or other team sport or competition. If the Player violates this Paragraph 12, he shall be subject to discipline imposed by the Team and/or the Commissioner of the NBA.

It’s hard to see the Cavaliers restricting LeBron on anything like this. They practically let him write his own contract – two-year max with a player option and trade kicker – annually so he can keep collecting as the salary cap rises. If he requested a clause allowing him to ride a motorcycle, would they really say no?

On the other hand, I doubt they want their franchise player taking any undue risks. It’s worth noting, though, that Williams wasn’t wearing a helmet and didn’t have a license. Maybe the Cavaliers could accept LeBron riding in a safer manner.

But if they didn’t consent and LeBron is riding a motorcycle, what would the consequences be? They’re not voiding his contract. It’d be up to the team and Adam Silver to determine punishment, and I don’t recall any precedent for that type of violation.

76ers owner: Brett Brown deserves an ‘A’

Brett Brown
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Only one person in NBA history has coached as many games as Brett Brown and had a worst winning percentage.

The 76ers coach, who sports a 37-127 record, is trumped by just Brian Winters. Winters went 36-148 with the expansion Grizzlies and during interim stint guiding the Warriors.

Brown is entering the third season of his four-year contract, and Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie has been mum about an extension.

76ers owner Josh Harris is taking a similar approach, but he also says a lot of nice things about Brown.

Harris, via John Finger of CSN Philly:

“It’s probably not appropriate for me to talk about specifics about what the negotiations are with him,” Harris said during a media conference on Thursday at the team’s training camp at Stockton College.

“I give Brett an A for the job he’s done,” Harris said. “He’s been an incredible player development person, which is what we need at this point in time. He’s a great person to be around. He’s enthusiastic and he’s a born coach and a leader of men. I’m very impressed with Brett and I hope and expect Brett to be around the team for a very long time.”

Brown has done a fantastic job keeping this team engaged through losing and developing its young players. It’s not his fault Philadelphia stinks. Tanking is an organizational decision.

But the 76ers aren’t tanking forever, and soon, they’ll require a different type of coaching.

Is Brown up for it? No idea. He hasn’t had any chance to prove it.

After all he’s done, though, he probably deserves a chance to find out.