With the Indiana Pacers being unable to find a contract offer that Lance Stephenson seems to like, other teams might be moving in on the shooting guard, as the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and the Charlotte Hornets are topping the list of suitors.
Stephenson averaged 13.8 points per game last season for the Pacers, something of a breakout year for him, even mentioned by some as a borderline All-Star, although that might have to do with the overall weakness in the Eastern conference. He was just as good in the playoffs, although his tendencies to focus on things that have nothing to do with basketball hurt his value and standing within the Pacers and other teams.
Indiana offered Stephenson $44 million over five seasons and he rejected it. Stephenson feels he deserves to be paid a whole lot more. Something around the $10-12 million a season mark, which is something the Pacers aren’t willing, as of now, to spend because of the luxury tax. The Pacers want to keep their core group, making two conference finals together, intact. If Stephenson does bolt, they don’t have the cap space to sign someone of his caliber through a mid level exception.
It’s interesting to see the Lakers and the Mavs going after Stephenson. Both teams have other priorities, the Lakers especially. Carmelo Anthony and also LeBron James are a free agency target for both teams, and will only start making signings of Stephenson’s caliber after it’s clear where the two superstars are going. Every day they don’t make up their minds is another day of holding back and waiting. Like a clog in a sink before it’s released.
Both the Mavericks and the Lakers have cap space to give Stephenson even more money, but it’s unlikely that Dallas will be willing to pay him more than what the Pacers are offering. Both teams have shooting guards (Kobe Bryant, Monta Ellis) that are likely to start before he does, so it’ll be interesting to see what their intentions are for him: A Sixth man or someone who’ll be in a three-guard lineup, with Stephenson capable of guarding three positions on the floor.
The Hornets? Right now they’re more interested in Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz, but if they’re unable to sign the former Butler player, their mind and focus will be turned to Stephenson, and might be willing to overpay him in order to make him theirs.