Each week, we ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
What do you make of Lance Stephenson?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: You want to know what Lance’s antics detract from? They detract from his marketability. He’s hitting the free-agent market in a month and 30 GMs — not just 29 — have to think long and hard about the prospect of this guy with a big-money, long-term contract. The Lance through the first half of the regular season, the early Most Improved candidate? Fine. But the post-All-Star snub Lance, the guy who became pre-occupied with stats and maybe even took Larry Bird‘s acquisition of Evan Turner as a threat and challenge, merited deeper evaluations. And now, so does this kook who — let’s admit it — isn’t trying to rattle his opponents as much as he’s screaming “Look at me!” If a big contract is at any level a reward rather than an entitlement, there’s a good chance Stephenson will see this rewarding the wrong things. At this point, if he really wanted to show off, his best approached would be 30 points, lockdown defense and zero antics in the Pacers’ latest elimination game. That would serve everybody.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s a product of the times we live in that this is suddenly a so-called “real story.” Sure, it’s silly. But this is just a game. What’s the matter with having fun? The only one who winds up with egg on his face is Stephenson if he can’t follow up on his talk or his antics. Birdman Andersen flaps his wings. Dikembe Mutombo wagged his finger. Back in the day, M.L. Carr used to wave his white towel on the Celtics sideline. Carr once walked up to Maurice Cheeks as he was standing at the foul line for two free throws in the final seconds at Boston Garden and said, “Don’t choke.” Cheeks missed one of the free throws. Celtics won. The world didn’t end. Let me know when something truly important happens, say, with a Kardashian.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson is a character, and that can be a good thing. The league needs characters, guys that are a bit eccentric, maybe a little weird, but also play the game the right way. Stephenson walks the tightrope between character and clown. Blowing in LeBron James‘ ear is clownish, serves no purpose and really has no place in the game. It reminded me of Delonte West giving Utah’s Gordon Hayward a wet-Willie a couple of years ago, though that’s much more of an invasion of personal space (and not very hygienic). West was fined $25,000. Stephenson’s antics obviously affected his team because his teammates essentially said so, deeming it unwise to poke LeBron. This time of year it’s just stupid, unwanted distractions. Stephenson’s a little like J.R. Smith with the silly on-court antics he likes to pull that are mostly mindless, childish and, again, serve no greater team purpose. He also reminds me of the kooky DeShawn Stevenson, but I digress. Stephenson proved this season that he can be a complete player and an essential player for the Pacers. The silly extracurriculars are unnecessary and mostly frowned upon by the people that matter. Stephenson will likely figure that out this summer when he becomes a free agent. Those max deals that were talked about earlier this season. He can blow those away.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I think in some ways he is the face of these Pacers. Not the face of the team or the entire franchise — that’s All-Star Paul George for the roster and Larry Bird in the big-picture — but the epitome of a group that can be very good or very unpredictable. And obviously not always in a good way. While he comes off as goofy to a lot of people, that doesn’t matter. The real issue is how he comes off to the Pacers themselves. They have been desperately searching for stability since late in the regular season, yet get antics from an important player. Fine. It gets Stephenson in the right place to play at a high level. And it should also be pointed out that he deserves a lot of credit for going from a second-rounder a lot of teams wouldn’t touch to these heights. Yet I can’t help thinking that teammates could do without the sideshow.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I really don’t care. It’s a storyline that gives people something to talk about on TV. It’s dumb and unprofessional. But it has nothing to do with who’s winning or losing these games. More important than whether or not he’s blowing in LeBron’s ear is whether or not he’s staying in front of LeBron when he’s defending him.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think his act is every bit as silly as it looks on the floor, on TV and frankly from Mars. As talented as he is, Stephenson’s “Lance being Lance” routine is simply a court jester act that was tired before it got started. I don’t think it’s some calculated strategy of his to undermine the opposition or get in anyone’s head. I think it’s a coping mechanism for a guy with colossal insecurity that he cannot shake. He reminds me of the former Ron Artest in that he struggles to deal with defeat and individual failure in anything other than a self-destructive way. I lived through some of Ronnie’s best and worst days in Indiana. One minute you’re praising him and the next you’re thinking he needs to be committed. The emotional highs and lows Stephenson experiences during a game are just mind-boggling. The need to assert himself as some dominant figure one minute and then his sulking and selfishness the next make for All-Star drama, but don’t make him a true All-Star. There are much classier ways to handle yourself than blowing in someone’s ear or getting in someone’s face all the time to make yourself feel important. Most of his antics are harmless to others. They only serve to detract from the fact that he’s a hell of a basketball player who spends far too much time perfecting his act instead of his game. He’s not making a mockery of the game with all of the foolishness, he’s only making a fool of himself and mocking the game for all the world to see.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There was a moment on the Game 5 pregame show on ESPN, just a few minutes before tipoff, when the cameras zeroed in on Lance during the warmups. While the rest of the Pacers were getting up shots, there was Lance in the corner, firing up 3-pointers … with his back turned to the basket. Doug Collins was furious, asking whether Lance would be attempting these type of shots in the game. The thing is, Lance very well might attempt a few back-to-the-basket threes in any given game. And he’d probably make one, too. That’s part of the Lance Stephenson Experience. When you sign up for the ride with Lance, you don’t expect the trip between points A and B to be a straight line — you figure there will be plenty of zigs and zags along the way. But you hope that the whole turns out to contain more ups than downs. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Either way, heading into a Game 6 in Miami, Lance gives the Pacers an elite athlete capable of affecting the game in a multitude of ways, and I don’t think they have many better options than Lance. For better or worse.
Selçuk Aytekin, NBA Turkiye: First of all, I believe he does not have what you and I would call a normal personality. His brain just works a little differently from the other people. Part of the problem here, though, is that playing a “war of nerves” just isn’t a really common tactic in NBA. You like him when he plays for your team, and hate him when he plays for someone else. And it appears that what he’s doing is good for Indy — that he’s pushing his teammates to play harder. Not to say that the refs shouldn’t watch him a little more. Above all, he seems to be having a lot of fun, and he’s a one of a kind player. Let him play with his style …
Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Born ready! I love his game but his antics? I’m not quite sure yet. A big part of the game is to get into the head of your opponent — that is half the battle. And if you manage to irritate your opponent enough to make them play out of control, all the better. But he should lessen the antics a notch because too much of anything is not good. He can bother LeBron and Dwyane with his raw talent, too. That is where he should focus. He should still respect the game and pick his spots in bothering his opponents. Stephenson is a supremely talented athlete and he will mature into an even better player if he can just focus on playing winning basketball.
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Lance Stephenson’s antics have become a distraction. From this series, from Pacers’ problems, from Lance’s talent — which he’s not fully displaying in this ECF. He looks like a bully when he acts like that, one of those playground bullies who try to bother you, because they’re scared by you. It’s not hard to imagine that he acted like that when he was schooling everybody in a Brooklyn playground, and he’s acting the same way today that he’s in the NBA, facing the best player on the planet. What he does on the field, including blowing into an opponent’s ear (that was hilarious) is to some degree part of the game though, like trash talking. The league shouldn’t limit it or try to control it. What I totally don’t like is a player in the other team’s huddle, and that’s where the league should find a way (Tech? Fine?) to stop it. Back to the point at hand: ideally, his antics would be a welcome distraction that could even help his teammates to focus more on the opponent. But if it’s not working, if Stephenson’s antics are distracting even his own team, he should stop it.
Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Wow! Lance! Where do I begin? He’s a combination of silly and sly, he frustrates and at times he is brilliant. I enjoy Lance’s antics and believe they are good for the game. He’s a polarizing figure and I guess, someone has to play the bad guy, right? As NBA fans we’re all in awe of LeBron and love watching him at his best but we also enjoy seeing a player attempt to get inside his head and go toe-to-toe. Sometimes it even unsettles LeBron and other times it fires him up but I don’t think his random and unpredictable antics are bad for the game. As long as he plays within the rules and doesn’t go out to hurt anyone, I like seeing the wacky tactics that he uses to get inside the opponents’ head. The Pacers fans love it, he teammates enjoy it and I think it fires him up. You have to take the good with the bad with Lance because you will probably see both multiple times in 48 minutes.