The Pacers' burning questions

Not all fans understood the reference to the rumors. George, Hill and Hibbert didn't elaborate much to the media. It was an old photo but Hibbert and George did go fishing during the series with the Washington Wizards to clear their minds. The post quelled the rumors to a certain extent, and the Pacers started to play better, winning that series 4-2 after falling behind 1-0.

Q: Lance Stephenson has been both wonderful and evidently selfish -- is it correct he has been a destabilizing force?

A: Stephenson has become one of the most polarizing players in the league and certainly on his own team. The Pacers have nurtured him for four years and constructed an entire support system aimed at nourishing him and controlling him, from hands-on daily encouragement and review from president Larry Bird all the way to the public relations staff trying their best to keep him from putting his foot in his mouth.

In the past two seasons, Stephenson has blossomed as a player, but he's also more comfortable taking liberties and risks. This has pushed the bounds with the players and coaches.

Putting it in Indianapolis terms, Stephenson is like a race car. The performance can be incredible and awe-inspiring. But he requires constant maintenance by the entire operation, and losing focus for one second can lead to various levels of disaster. This, naturally, can and has grown tiresome.

In the past three years, all of the Pacers' core players -- Hill, Hibbert, West, George -- have been signed to long-term deals. Now it is Stephenson's turn. Bird has always supported him. He stuck his neck out to draft him despite Stephenson's checkered past and red flags. Despite Stephenson's tantalizing talents, sources said there are many in the organization who don't think it's a good decision to give him a rich, long-term contract, given the way he has acted during the season.

Q: Hill was a big factor last postseason, but not this time around. What happened to him?

A: From the outside, it looks like Hill has regressed, as his scoring average has dropped four points a game, and his assists are also down. He's had numerous games where he's seemed invisible. In the first round of the playoffs, he was outplayed by the Atlanta Hawks' Jeff Teague, which was not a good look because both players signed $8 million-per-year contracts.

Privately, Hill has told people he's very upset with himself this season and takes the blame for not being more assertive, and he has vowed to change. But it is not all about his game. He also has been upset about the changing nature of his role and his willingness not to challenge that shift. Hill's shooting and rebounding numbers this season are steady, but as the Pacers have turned the keys of the offense to Stephenson, Hill has been marginalized. His role in the offense is often to get out of the way and stand in the corner as a floor spacer, the kind of role he was relegated to in San Antonio early in his career.

Indeed, if you look at the stats, he is averaging 3.5 fewer shots per game this season. Where did those shots go? One possible answer with some symmetrical evidence: Stephenson is averaging about 3.5 more shots than last season.

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