Pacers face very difficult decision with Lance Stephenson

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers core is in place for another run at the East, but Lance Stephenson's future is up in the air.

The Indiana Pacers went from a dominant force in the NBA to a team that wilted through the second half of the season. Their playoff run didn't show cause for optimism, either, as the team struggled with the Atlanta Hawks, tussled with the Washington Wizards for six games and was beaten soundly by the Miami Heat.

The Pacers' roster has one huge question mark going into the summer with Lance Stephenson becoming a free agent, but the remainder of their core is locked in. Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West are all under contract for another crack at breaking out of the Eastern Conference.

Frank Vogel won't have a young rookie to work into his rotations (barring an unforeseen trade), but the team will still be a contender in the East. Their salary situation is tight, but with quality players locked in and the growing talents of George, Indiana is still in good position ... assuming its talent bounces back and can overcome whatever chemistry issues plagued them last season.

The assets

Pick: No. 57
Free agents: Lance Stephenson (UFA), Evan Turner (RFA), Lavoy Allen (RFA), Rasual Butler (UFA)
Cap space: $3 million

Depth Chart

PG: George Hill, C.J. Watson

SG: Lance Stephenson (UFA), Evan Turner (RFA), Solomon Hill

SF: Paul George, Evan Turner (RFA), Rasual Butler (UFA), Chris Copeland

PF: David West, Luis Scola, Lavoy Allen (RFA)

C: Roy Hibbert, Ian Mahinmi

Team needs

The Pacers' biggest need may be on their wings if Stephenson signs with another team this summer. Indiana doesn't have control over the situation, as he will be an unrestricted free agent. The team's salary cap doesn't make it easy for Indiana to replace his role on the roster, and the internal options aren't appealing for a club pushing to be a title contender.

Even if Stephenson re-signs, the Pacers will need to find bench-quality talent. The signing of Chris Copeland and the trades for Turner and Scola didn't pan out, as they all struggled mightily for Indiana last season. This has been a longtime problem for team president Larry Bird.

The Pacers could also use another option in their frontcourt. Scola's defense hurt them, and his production reached career lows.

Targets

The Pacers won't have a big target to pick out in the draft with only one of the last picks of the second round. They've held workouts -- mostly with perimeter players -- but there's no clear indication on who they'll select with the late pick. It makes sense they'd draft and develop another wing player as a potential long-term insurance policy behind Stephenson, but that player becoming a full-time contributor to a championship-contending team is unlikely in Year 1.

Indiana will likely save most of its moves for free agency, starting with finding a solution for Stephenson's future. The Pacers don't have cap room to make a high-profile signing but could still attract veteran talent with the lure of competing on one of the best squads in the NBA. Finding a three-point specialist and a player who can perform on defense within the team's system are likely the top priorities skill-set wise for the Pacers.

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