When the Eastern Conference Finals tipped off a couple of weeks ago, Lance Stephenson took it upon himself to try and become the kryptonite to the super hero, LeBron James. He would relentlessly harass James throughout the series, and even go so far as to blow in his ear. While his plan ultimately fell short when the Heat eliminated the Pacers in six games, his actions may have also had an impact on Stephenson’s value heading into free agency, which leads us to the question: Should the Mavericks take a chance on Stephenson? Staff writers Michael Lark, and Terrence Huie dive into the difficult question and give their thoughts. As the world watch the Eastern Conference Finals this year, all eyes were glued feud between Lance Stephenson and Lebron James.
Yes, Bring Stephenson to Big D
Terence Huie, Staff Writer
A “MFFL” might say, “Well, Lance Stephenson isn’t a guy we would want in Dallas because of his immaturity on and off the court”. But let’s reflect back to the 2011 Finals of a fellow Maverick who feuded with LeBron James. That man is DeShawn Stevenson. That Stevenson-Lebron James rivalry dated back to almost 2008. It all started during the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards. No DeShawn didn’t blow air in Lebron’s face, instead he created a “diss track” about James. In the 2011 Finals, took quite a few jabs at Lebron via talking to the media. One in particular relates to Stevenson telling the press that Lebron “checked out” in Game 4 of the Finals. But eventually, Lebron would get the last laugh now as he currently sits at being a two-time NBA champion. Lance Stephenson has undoubtedly made some noise in the 2013-2014 season. The 6’5” Pacers shooting guarding averaged 13.8 points per game off 49% shooting, 4.6 assists per game, and 7.2 rebounds per game (all career highs). Stephenson will be 25 years-old and is heading into his fifth NBA season, which is impressive given that he is performing at such a high level. Indiana Pacers GM and Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird will make re-signing Stephenson a priority. “I always want him back. You just don’t let talent like that walk away”, quoted Bird. Larry Bird is absolutely right. It’s not often that you find a special gifted player like Lance Stephenson, who is the regular season league leader in triple-doubles. If we dig deeper and look at the stats, Lance Stephenson’s behavioral stunts overshadow how well he performs on the court. Looking at the shot chart for Stephenson in the regular season, majority of his points come from scoring in the paint. With his speed and athleticism, he’s easily unguardable when it comes to scoring in the paint similar to Monta Ellis. His double-double total of 20 is ranked first at the shooting guard position. On the defensive side, Stephenson is a big reason why the Pacers were arguably the best defensive team in the NBA this season. Looking at the shooting guard position alone, the Pacers held shooting guards to just 19.57 points per game (best in the league). Also the Indiana led the league in opponent field goal percentage amongst shooting guards with 39%. So we know that Lance Stephenson is a great player offensively and defensively; but how would he fit in with the Dallas Mavericks organization? At his height of 6’5, it is uncertain if he could possibly start at the small forward position. What we do know is that he can guard some of the tall 6’7-6’8 guys in the league. As for his crazy trash-talking and on-court frolics are concerned, Coach Carlisle and his staff can take care of that. We’ve seen players who have played under Carlisle and displayed great progression during a season. Monta Ellis is a perfect example of this. If it hasn’t happened already, at some point Stephenson will look back at the Eastern Conference Finals series as a learning experience. He’ll realize the way he behaved during that series, it was ultimately a detriment to the Pacers’ journey to the NBA Finals. Once he comes to that realization, Lance Stephenson will become an elite basketball player.
The Mavericks Should Pass On Stephenson and His Antics
Staff Writer Michael Lark
Haven’t we seen this type of player before? Oh yes, that’s right he was the artist formally known as Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) as a member of the Indiana Pacers. They are eerily identical players – young, rugged and talented, born in New York, full of athleticism, versatility and the potential to be NBA All-Stars. They can shoot the three just as well as they can play the role of defensive stopper against the NBA’s elite. So, let’s recall how “Mr. World Peace” overstayed his welcome for the Indiana Pacers. It was November 19, 2004, with less than one minute left in a game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers, Artest fouls Piston’s center Ben Wallace hard in a play that results in a shoving match between the two players. In the heat of the moment, both benches spilled onto the court into a physical confrontation between the teams that seemed to come to a quick resolution. Then, as Artest lay on his back on the scorer’s table, a Detroit fan throws a cup at Artest’s chest. Artest immediately gets up and runs into the stands and complete insanity ensues, erupting into one of the most embarrassing, scariest moments in the history of the NBA known as the Malice in the Palace. This little incident seemingly derailed the promising, young career of Artest, who never appeared to quite reach the potential many believed he would. And today, at the age of 34, Artest isn’t even worth a roster spot for the lowly 37-win New York Knicks (or any team for that matter) and now finds himself out of the NBA. Stephenson seems to be headed down the same path. While Stephenson isn’t quite the same guy, there are some obviously alarming similarities. Only four years into the league, Stephenson has already created a reputation for himself as a bad locker room guy. Before first round of the playoffs this year, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that Stephenson and fellow teammate Evan Turner had to be separated after being involved in a physical altercation in the Pacers locker room. Before that, on March 31, David Aldridge of NBA.com quoted Pacer’s center Roy Hibbert as saying, there are “some selfish dudes” in the team’s locker room, a statement many believed to be targeted at the polarizing shooting guard. Apparently, Hibbert is so upset that after falling just two games short of the NBA Finals he is “open to a trade” from Pacer’s Nation. Then there’s the Pacer’s star forward, Paul George. “I mean, I don’t know,” is what George said following Indiana’s season-ending loss to Miami in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when asked about whether he felt that the unrestricted free agent should return next season. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for a guy who supposedly has played a pivotal role in the success of the Pacers this past season. Apparently, his play on the court hasn’t been good enough to encourage George to publicly declare his support for the enigmatic Brooklyn native. So, what makes Stephenson such a polarizing player that has owners and general managers around the league reluctant to sign him this offseason? Stephenson seems to be more concerned with making headlines and drawing personal attention rather than focusing on playing basketball. Before the beginning of the ECF, Stephenson made headlines for saying he hoped to run Dwyane Wade to the point his balky knees flared up. Before Game 4 of the ECF, he told reporters that LeBron James’ response to his trash talking was “a sign of weakness.” While he did go on to play well, averaging 14 points, 5 assists and 5.8 rebounds against the Miami Heat, his performance was overshadowed by the stats that truly mattered: two fines for flopping, one special blow into the ear of Lebron James, a flagrant foul on Norris Cole, and the continuous foolish and outrageous antics done in an attempt to take Lebron out of his game. Lebron averaged 22.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists and shot 56% from the field. Sorry, Lance but I don’t think the “buffoonery,” as Ray Allen of the Heat called it, worked There is no mistaking Stephenson’s talent, but it’s the actions and bizarre behavior that has created the head case known as “Bad Lance” that is just not a fit for the Mavericks. With Shawn Marion set to hit the free agent market, the Mavs will be on the hunt for a new defensive stopper. At 23 years-old, Stephenson ranked 14th in the league in defensive efficiency, which will most certainly peak the interest of the Mavericks’ front office for a team that clearly needs to improve defensively. Perhaps, the Mavs decide to ignore the immaturity of Stephenson and decide his talent alone is worth the risk, and that he could benefit from being in an organization with a better culture just like Monta Ellis. While the Ellis case study may provide reasons for fans to think that the Mavs organization could rehabilitate his erratic behavior as a bad locker room guy, there has to be a willingness on his part to buy into what the Mavs and Mark Cuban are selling. Remember Lamar Odom, Delonte West and Josh Howard? Those situations didn’t exactly end well despite the opportunities the Mavs organization provided. Thankfully, the Mavs weren’t locked into long-term contracts with any of those players, so there was little risk on their part. However, locking up Stephenson in a long-term contract could spell complete disaster for the Mavs in the final years of Dirk’s career. Sometimes players just do not mature over time, despite being given a good opportunity to succeed. Even seven years later after the Malice in the Palace, World Peace was the same classless player he has always been, but this time as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. With 24.4 seconds left in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals in 2011 against the Dallas Mavericks, for no apparent reason, Artest decided to clothesline Mavs point guard J.J. Barea in a play that resulted in a one-game suspension. What a poor representation of yourself and the organization. It has already been reported by Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com, that the Mavs front office “doesn’t see Stephenson as a fit, particularly since they’d probably have to offer near max contract.” Stephenson is not a fit simply based on finances alone – plus, the Mavs already have a great starting two-guard in Ellis and have plenty of other positions that are of higher priority. While Stephenson has the potential to become a mature, All-Star several years down the road, the Mavs are still looking to maximize the career of Dirk and the “win now” motto should suffice to say thanks but no thanks to Lance Stephenson.