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Should Pacers invest in Teague?

This should be automatic, right? He’s still in his prime, coming off one of the best statistical seasons of his career, has no physical maladies, is a nice guy and wants to be here. But it isn’t automatic, and therein lies the conundrum.

If you look strictly at the numbers, Teague was in the top eight among point guards in points (15.3), assists (career-high 7.8), steals (1.2), rebounds (career-high 4.0), free throw attempts (5.1) and free throw percentage (.867). And he was 23rd in salary ($8.8 million).

But until Lance Stephenson came along, he just didn’t pass the eye test consistently, often playing lethargically, failing to take control of the offense, and seemingly unwilling to assume a bigger scoring role with enough frequency to make a difference. In short, he spent too much time in the shadows and not nearly enough in the spotlight. Point guard is a position that demands command, and that is where Teague fell short.

Stephenson’s arrival charged up everyone, including Teague, who suddenly started playing with the passion, energy and emotion missing the rest of the year, but it’s fair to question whether that would be sustainable over the course of a full season. The impact wasn’t just mental, though. Stephenson’s ability to run the offense, to push the tempo, to create off the dribble, relieved pressure from Teague while turning him into more of a scorer.

Some will argue Stephenson should be handed the reigns at point guard, making Teague expendable. While that would clear some cap space to pursue a prominent free agent, it would also leave the Pacers desperately thin at point guard, while putting the critical position in the hands of a player who is wildly unpredictable.

Teague will be one of the top handful of point guards on the market (others include Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, George Hill and Jrue Holliday; Steph Curry is excluded because he isn’t leaving the Warriors), and is in position to double his salary, with an average in the $16-18 million range feasible. At that price, the Pacers have to consider this question: is Teague’s talent part of the solution, or is his laid-back demeanor part of the problem?

Of course, the Paul George situation also factors in heavily. If Teague believes George will not be here beyond the 2017-18 season -- if that long -- he might not want to commit long-term to a rebuilding project in Indiana, and the decision would be completely beyond the Pacers’ influence.

The bottom line is the Pacers need all the assets they can get, and thus should actively and aggressively seek to re-sign Teague. Losing him would ultimately exact a greater cost.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)


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