Not surprised or disappointed that Stephenson is leaving Pacers

Lance Stephenson
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I have believed since the Pacers season ended in the Eastern Conference Finals that another NBA team would offer Lance Stephenson more money than the Pacers would be willing to pay. Turns out Stephenson did get a little more money per season from the Charlotte Hornets (reported 3 years, $27.4 million), but apparently the bigger issue for Lance and his agent, Alberto Ebanks, was the length of the contract.

Stephenson made just under a million dollars last season. The Pacers offered Stephenson a five-year deal worth $44 million. The Hornets will pay Lance $9 million each of the next two seasons. The Hornets hold a team option for a 3rd year at $9.4 million.

Stephenson is just 23 years old. He wants the opportunity to play well and then command an even bigger deal (perhaps a max contract) in the height of his career three years from now, rather than being stuck in a long-term five year deal. Good for him. I can't blame him.

The Pacers' offer was more than fair, and apparently the most the Pacers were willing to spend. I understand that Stephenson's undeniable talents made him worth $44 million on the open market, maybe more. But I argue that Stephenson's troublesome behavior and antics were not worth the risk of being stuck with Lance for the next five years. I'm certainly glad the Pacers did not up the ante.

Stephenson led the Pacers in rebounding and assists in his best season yet. He led the NBA with five triple-doubles. He brought energy and excitement with flair. A player who was a sometimes nuisance may have become the fan favorite, even among those seated in Area 55 and the G2 Zone.

But don't forget that Stephenson also led the Eastern Conference in technical fouls. His immature and unprofessional antics became irritating, if not troublesome. The breaking point for me was in the Eastern Conference Finals. After he blew in the ear of LeBron James, Pacers president Larry Bird told Lance to quit with the silliness. Instead, Lance was out of control the very next game, tapping James in the face.

Don't forget about the reported practice fight with Evan Turner. Don't forget about Lance chasing triple-double stats and playing totally outside the flow of a game. Don't forget Lance standing away from the bench in his own little world. I've always had the sense that Lance is one of those teammates that becomes difficult to play with and be around. After a while, Stephenson grates on you in the locker room.

The Pacers put up with a lot of nonsense because Bird loved Stephenson. There's no denying the Pacers' late-season slump had something to do with team chemistry. I won't completely blame Stephenson, but he was the most combustible element.

Everyone talked about "good Lance" and "bad Lance" last season. You never know which one you are going to get. I just don't trust Lance, and I question both his intelligence and maturity to become a star or leader for an NBA team.

C.J. Miles is the immediate replacement for Stephenson in the starting lineup. Miles is a terrific shooter, but not nearly the all-around player Stephenson is. The Pacers obviously lost a good player. On paper, they also lost favorite status in the Eastern Conference to advance to the NBA Finals. But let's wait and see how the rest of the summer plays out.

I'm not surprised Stephenson is gone and I'm not disappointed, either. The Pacers made more of an effort to keep him than I would have.