It appears the Pacers’ opening pitch was just a bit outside.
With today’s report, courtesy ESPN’s Chris Broussard, that Stephenson and agent Alberto Ebanks were less than overwhelmed by an opening bid of five years and $44 million – not to mention a movie tribute – it would seem the chances of the Pacers re-signing their starting shooting guard have slipped from slam-dunk to desperation three from midcourt.
Broussard termed the talks “at an impasse” and said sources close to Stephenson believe “he’s worth much more.”
The Bulls, Lakers and Hornets were listed as likely suitors. Charlotte ($23.8 million) and the Lakers ($22.6 million) have ample cap space to make an offer. Chicago also is pursuing Carmelo Anthony, which would indicate Stephenson represents a fallback position.
According to Broussard’s source:
“Lance and his representatives aren’t sure they’re going to be able to reach an agreement with the Pacers. It’s clear they want him back and he wanted to go back, but they may not be able to come to terms.”
Given the amount of disinformation that has been spread by clubs and agents in the first days of free agency, it’s dicey to put 100 percent faith in anybody’s sources at the moment but let’s just assume Broussard’s report stand up and Stephenson is poised to jump teams.
The Pacers, of course, could always raise their offer but they lack much in the way of wiggle room. So what are their best options if Stephenson does indeed leave?
Even without Stephenson and Evan Turner, whose rights they chose not to retain, the Pacers would still be over the projected $63.2 million salary cap, but they would still have some money to invest:
- The $5.3 million mid-level exception:
- A trade exception of $4,281,921 from the Danny Granger deal that expires Feb. 20, 2015;
- A trade exception of $1,121,520 from the Miles Plumlee deal that expires July 27.
They already have met with C.J. Miles, the former Utah and Cleveland wing player, a 27-year-old who would bring a legitimate 3-point threat as well as capable defense, and a 6-6 frame that suggests he could back up either wing position. The Pacers apparently are offering a slice of the mid-level exception, reportedly in the neighborhood of $2.1 million.
They reportedly have reached agreement on a three-year deal with 6-10, 200-pound Croatian Damjan Rudez, who has been described as a stretch four. If that is indeed the case, he would be redundant to the already under-utilized Chris Copeland. Only if Rudez can factor into the wing rotation would this move make any sense at all.
With Stephenson, Turner and Rasual Butler all free agents, the Pacers presently have just two wings under contract: Paul George and Solomon Hill. That means they’re in need of both a starter and a backup.
Let’s pencil in Miles as the backup.
Who, then, would be the moderately priced candidates to start? You can rule out Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons and Luol Deng because of the pricetags, but there would still be some intriguing possibilities.
>> Trevor Ariza might be a pipe dream, as well, given he earned $7.7 million last season and had the best year of his career, thus is hardly in line for a pay cut. But in terms of size, versatility and the combination of defensive aggression and 3-point threat, he represents something of an ideal.
>> Thabo Sefolosha is Ariza-ish in that he is a long, lean and has many of the same skills albeit in lesser quantities. Coming off a season plagued by injuries and an extended shooting slump, it appears his days in Oklahoma City are over. Unlike Ariza, he won’t have much leverage because of the down year, but teams will have to decide what was the reality with Sefolosha: those two seasons of plus-41 percent 3-point shooting in OKC, or the rest of his career.
>> Paul Pierce wants to play one or two more years, and it appears he’s willing to leave Kevin Garnett behind in Brooklyn. The prevailing sentiment has him rejoining Doc Rivers with the Clippers, the Pacers would do well to consider making a run at Pierce. Yes, he is slowing down and is a 24-minute player, at best, but he’s exactly the type of savvy, seasoned pro that teams need in tight playoff situations.
>> Vince Carter, like Pierce, is a veteran very likely about to sign his last NBA contract, a part-time player but still capable of producing at a high level in short bursts. He’s also likely to be less expensive than Pierce and, while nowhere near the athletic marvel of his early years, still moves well enough to get the job done at both ends.
>> It might surprise you to learn Ray Allen averaged nearly 27 minutes a game last season in Miami and still shot nearly 38 percent from the 3-point line. It doesn’t seem likely he would finish out his career anywhere other than Miami, but what could it hurt to ask?
>> And let us not forget Danny Granger, who wasn’t thrilled with the Pacers when they traded him but could be had for a modest price. Though his lack of productivity last season was discouraging, it’s common for a player returning from major knee surgery to need a year to regain confidence and rhythm.
>> Speaking of guys that might not be thrilled with the Pacers, Evan Turner is one of the most skilled free agents on the market but his time in Indiana very likely cost him millions in the market. Larry Bird has said he believes Turner would be a 17-point scorer with the opportunity to play; if Stephenson moves on, that opportunity might arrive right here.
>> A wild card could be Al-Farouq Aminu, who has 171 starts in four seasons in New Orleans and is still just 23 years old. Though his offensive game is still lacking, he has proven a strong defender and rebounder and given his youth, still has time to improve.
>> If it’s 3-point shooting you want, Anthony Morrow is your man. If it’s anything else you want, look elsewhere.
>> Someone will be seduced by Nick Young’s analytics with the Lakers last season, but the Pacers should not be fooled. This is a guy whose only success has been putting up numbers with bad teams.