With the Indiana Pacers and Lance Stephenson reportedly far apart on contract negotiations, may we humbly suggest a pairing made in heaven? Lance Stephenson. The Philadelphia 76ers. Let’s do this.
Somewhere amid the putrid mass that was the 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers, the sternest of League Pass archaeologists could, through perseverance and grit, unearth a single shining speck of entertainment in the form of Brett Brown’s frenetic offensive ways.
With a young, terrible and mostly pointless roster, the first year coach more or less decided to forgo a traditional offensive playbook. Whether he sought simplicity or was just reticent to spend limited resources teaching complicated offense to a roster that needed attention in so many areas, Brown’s solution involved a hearty pull of the speed lever, as his rag-tag bunch of D-Leaguers and Thad Young sped up the league’s pace rankings.
The strategy did not bear the traditional fruits of victory, but it gave strands of joy to many League Pass nomads who were forced to set camp near the poisoned oasis of brotherly love. It wasn’t full blown fun – it’s hard to use that word to describe the Sixers, post November blitz – but once or twice a quarter an incidental stroke of serendipity would haphazardly stroke the stained canvas with a mad Michael Carter-Williams dash, Hollis Thompson and that dude from Thursdays at the Y flanking him.
Nowhere was this effect more noticable than with Tony Wroten. It’s not that Wroten is an especially good NBA player, or even a subjectively watchable one. He can’t shoot, won’t defend, and is largely irrelevant in the greater NBA scheme. But me oh my, does chaos run in his blood. The same qualities he has that can infuriate a coach – inconsistency, a tendency to go for the flashy over the fundamental, unrealized physical abilities – flip towards the exhilirating when sped up and injected with adrenaline.
Lance Stephenson broke out last year as a borderline all-star/certified nutjob, but at his core, he’s just another Tony Wroten. The first, second and third associations one has when Lance is mentioned are visions of him skipping downcourt (aren’t those travels?), his eyes drenched in madness and his dribble erratic, as the world watches in terror. Will it be a full-court bounce pass? Will it be a behind-the-back dribble that immediately because an alley-oop off the backboard? Will he pull up from 35 feet? Who knows? It seems as if not even Lance.
Lance losing his mind is treated as a curse, mostly due to its disciplinarian implications. But its open court permutation is nothing less than a gift. Lance’s bizarre version of decision making may look like an M.C. Escher staircase to the outside, but from within it’s immediate and intuitive, like animals running from a wildfire they have yet to see but have already sensed. To hell with winning games. This is pure, unadulterated Born Ready, the raw core of one of basketball’s premier characters. Why would we want to see him in any other form?
We don’t. But to see him at his purest, Lance needs a fitting style of play. Walk-it-up, muck-it-up Indiana smashmouth is a fit for Lance’s skill set, but not for his soul. Brett Brown is the key to that doorway. Get Lance to Philly and get out of the way.