One of the NBA's most polarizing players hits the open market this summer, but where will he end up? Could the Lakers, Hawks, or Pistons sign him?
Lance Stephenson is one of the most intriguing free agents of the year. After making his name in the 2012/13 playoffs, he has developed into a key player for the Indiana Pacers over the course of the season.
However, off-court issues and Indiana's decline have hurt Stephenson's stock. His early-season performance would seemingly have set him up for a big payday in the Summer, but now his market value could be anywhere between $4 million and $10 million per year, depending on his performance in the playoffs.
Here are a few potential off-season landing spots for the shooting guard:
Detroit have not been afraid to spend on free agents, signing Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith last season for a combined $22 million per year. The Pistons will have at least $14 million in cap space this summer, which will rise if they decide to let Greg Monroe walk. Jennings has been disappointing this year, and new coach Stan van Gundy would be able to move him off the ball by utilising Stephenson's ball-handling skills.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers will completely tear up their roster this off-season, with only Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash scheduled to be on the payroll. While they are geared up to make a splash in 2015, when big names such as Kevin Love become free agents, Stephenson could be an important piece as Los Angeles looks to build another title contender.
Atlanta were almost the surprise package of this season's playoffs, taking the Pacers to seven games in the first round. Ultimately they came up short, but with a couple of moves the Hawks could be a perennial playoff team in the weak Eastern Conference. Pairing Stephenson with Jeff Teague would give the Atlanta one of the most exciting young backcourts in the NBA, and they have the cap space to pull such a move off.
Stephenson could earn more money and a larger role elsewhere, but staying in Indiana is the most likely outcome for two reasons. First, despite their troubles this season the Pacers seem to have bonded during the playoffs, and undoubtedly will see themselves as legitimate contenders for years to come. The second reason is Larry Bird. The Pacers general manager gave Stephenson his shot at the NBA and remains a huge fan, and the guard will no doubt wish to repay the faith shown in him.