The initial offer from the Pacers to Lance Stephenson in free agency was for five years and $44 million guaranteed, which may not seem too bad on the surface.
But for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t even under consideration by Stephenson’s camp, and he rejected it immediately before looking elsewhere.
Indiana continued to sign other players while waiting on Stephenson, but those moves only made it less likely he’d be back, considering that precious salary cap dollars were being taken away by those deals, and so any new offer that the Pacers came up with would have had to have been for less than the initial one, barring a gutting of some of the team’s additional players.
Even setting all of that aside, the original offer was the primary issue.
From Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star:
The agreement with the Hornets comes after the Pacers had offered “a couple of options” to Stephenson, according to his agent Alberto Ebanks. One option involved more up front money but less overall and the higher of the offers was a five-year deal – an albatross in the view of Stephenson’s camp – worth $44 million.
“It wasn’t really about the money,” Ebanks said. “(But) If it’s going to be too little then don’t let it be too long because you’re losing on both ends. …
“We’re betting on Lance and not against Lance. So if he had to take a little bit less, he was willing to do that. But you don’t want to take a little bit less and play your entire basketball prime, the next five years for a lower amount of money. If you’re going to take less, take less for a less amount of time then hit reset. … and enter the free agent market.”
For that last reason, the five-year deal was completely one-sided in favor of the Pacers.
Stephenson has certainly had his issues, most recently being a distraction more than he was an asset against LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, and doing so on more than one occasion. But overall, he made a leap from a production standpoint last year, and was instrumental in helping Indiana get off to a strong start, especially during the first half of the season.
A five-year contract that paid him less than $9 million per year in total (remember, guys like Avery Bradley are getting $8 million per year in this market) was a semi-slap in the face. It was apparently treated as one by Stephenson’s team, who didn’t even give the Pacers a chance to match the offer that was ultimately accepted in Charlotte.