Free agency is about over for the most part in the NBA, with swingman Lance Stephenson signing a deal on Wednesday with the Charlotte Hornets. What does his loss mean to the Indiana Pacers' NBA odds?
Now A Barren Market
I think you can pretty much pencil in most NBA teams' rosters now at least in terms of major free-agent additions. There still could be trades, and I will look at Kevin Love's possibility of going to Golden State in another story today here at SportsbookReview.com.
There are two very good restricted free agents left in Phoenix point guard Eric Bledsoe and Detroit big man Greg Monroe, but the Suns and Pistons have said time and time again they would match any offer. The Suns would have a glut of guards by bringing back Bledsoe after already adding the Kings' Isaiah Thomas to go with Goran Dragic, but you can't let a guy like Bledsoe go for nothing and Dragic can become a free agent after next season. Otherwise, the top unrestricted free agents are dudes like Evan Turner, Shawn Marion or Rodney Stuckey. Maybe one of them could help a contender off the bench but they aren't difference-makers.
Pacers Take Big Hit
It's not that Indiana didn't want Stephenson back. Right when free agency opened at midnight on July 1, the Pacers brought Stephenson to an Indianapolis movie theater along with his friends and family and showed him a movie about his life. Pretty cool. "That's my boy, you know that," Larry Bird said to the local media about Stephenson. "I'll take care of him – if I can." The Pacers offered him a five-year, $44 million deal. Pretty good, but Stephenson thought it was low in a robust market. Indiana couldn't really offer more as it would have gone over the cap, which small-market teams never do. Yet Stephenson accepted a lower three-year, $27 million offer from the Hornets on Wednesday. Indiana never got a chance to match.
It appears players want these shorter deals now because they believe that the new NBA TV deal in a few years will be so massive that players will get even bigger salaries. It's why LeBron James took a two-year deal from Cleveland. Stephenson's is two with a team option but there's probably a clause in there that says the Hornets won't invoke it if he meets certain statistical criteria.
So what is Indiana losing and how will it affect your NBA picks? Stephenson could be a knucklehead who rubbed his teammates and opponents wrong at times -- remember him blowing in LeBron's ear during the Eastern Conference Finals? He also had 14 technical fouls and fought a teammate in a practice before a playoff game. However, Stephenson also averaged 35.3 minutes per game, 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and shot 49.1 percent from the field. Those were all career highs as were his five triple-doubles, which led the NBA. He's also a very good defensive player and only 23 years old. You don't see players his age and talent get to unrestricted free agency very often, but Stephenson was a second-round pick in 2010 so that expedited the process because of no first-round guaranteed rookie contract.
The Pacers led the Eastern Conference in wins last year with 56. Now their backcourt looks like one of the worst in the East. Point guard George Hill is mediocre at best, and the starting shooting guard at the moment apparently will be, well, there isn't a good option. Turner won't be back after the team traded for him during the 2013-14 season. The only moves the Pacers have made are re-signing backup point guard C.J. Watson and scrub big man Lavoy Allen, adding free agent C.J. Miles (the likely starter at shooting guard as of now) and bringing over Croatian forward Damjan Rudez. Suddenly the Pacers are Paul George and little else considering Roy Hibbert's playoff disappearances. At least they lead the league in players named C.J.
Bird has to have a Plan B up his sleeve, but I'm not sure what it could be. There are simply no shooting guards left on the market worth anything. Bird doesn't have a player anyone would want via trade because George is untouchable. He'll have to take perhaps a bad contract back. Maybe the Pelicans' Eric Gordon, an Indianapolis native and former IU star? He could be had, but Gordon can't stay healthy and is vastly overpaid. Perhaps Bird signs Stuckey as a stop-gap move. Either way, stay informed with reports like this one before making your sports picks.
The Pacers are currently +800 third-favorites on NBA odds to win the Eastern Conference and +2000 to win the NBA title.
NBA Free Picks
Indiana drops to around 48 wins and finishes third in the Central Division behind Chicago and Cleveland. I'd say the Pacers are now no better than fourth in the East behind the Bulls, Cavs and Wizards. Maybe worse than the Raptors too. The Hornets aren't an Eastern contender with Stephenson but should return to the playoffs.