LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are keeping NBA free agency in a holding pattern. Those two are so much ahead of the rest of the field, teams will wait for them before pursuing fallback options.
Melo will likely choose his new team soon, though LeBron could take much longer.
Whenever it shakes out, Lance Stephenson – unhappy with the Pacers’ five-year, $44 million contract offer – will get plenty of looks.
Stephenson has drawn interest from the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, though both teams have other free agents prioritized above Stephenson, according to sources.
The Lakers are one of the top contenders for Melo, so getting him would likely take them out of the race for Stephenson. But if Melo returns to the Knicks or anywhere else outside Los Angeles, I love the idea of Stephenson on the Lakers.
The Lakers owe the Phoenix a top-five protected first-round pick next season, and I doubt they tank hard enough to keep that. With their high ticket prices and big sponsorship deals, they need to be competitive.
Offer Stephenson a two-year max contract with the second year fully unguaranteed. He’d make the Lakers better, and he’s one of the NBA’s most exciting players, too. He’d also have huge trade value even if he tanks due to that large expiring contract.
The Mavericks would also make an interesting suitor with Jose Calderon, traded to the Knicks, vacating a starting backcourt spot. Stephenson and Monta Ellis can both handle on-ball duties, though I’m not sure they combine into a capable point guard. Dallas has made a habit of finding undervalued free agents, so I’d guess Stephenson signs there only if the market dries up elsewhere.
Of course, Indiana remains in the mix to retain its near-All-Star.
Since I last covered how much the Pacers can pay Stephenson, they signed Lavoy Allen. Assuming Allen is on a one-year contract, I projected Indiana can offer Stephenson just $38,445,570 over five years – $15,445,570 to remain below the luxury-tax line.
The good news for the Pacers? Stephenson is in no rush. That should give Larry Bird time to shop Roy Hibbert or take other cost-saving measures.
Small moves like waiving Luis Scola, waiving Donald Sloan, waiving Shayne Whittington, stretching Ian Mahinmi and/or waiving Allen if his deal isn’t fully guaranteed might create room for Indiana to increase its offer to Stephenson.
But if the Pacers are unwilling or unable to appease Stephenson, he’ll have other options.