Larry Bird offers lame rationale for losing Lance Stephenson

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Lance Stephenson turned down the Pacers’ five-year, $44 million contract offer.

Instead, he accepted just $18 million guaranteed over two years from the Hornets.

Did Stephenson lose free agency? Not necessarily.

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He’ll earn more per year in Charlotte than he would have in Indiana, $9 million vs. $8.8 million, and he’ll hit free agency again sooner. (Stephenson also has a $9,405,000 team option in the contract’s third year, according to ShamSports.com.)

Stephenson is essentially betting on himself, that he’ll command a bigger contract in three years than he would have gotten by locking in long-term with the Pacers now.

That’s a risk, but a defensible one. Stephenson is a great fit in Charlotte, where Steve Clifford values defense and needs Stephenson’s offensive firepower. And the salary cap might skyrocket with a new television deal. All contracts might be substantially larger in 2017.

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But left in the dust, Larry Bird is trying to spin his version of events.

Bob Kravitz of USA Today:

Stephenson’s people wanted more, wanted $12 million to $14 million from the Pacers, according to the team’s president. They were looking for a $55 million contract. When the offer came in at $44 million, they scoffed.

“I really feel bad about losing (Lance Stephenson) him,” (Larry) Bird said. “I hope it doesn’t interfere with our relationship. But I did what I could possibly do to keep him here. Even if he didn’t have any other offers, I was committed to giving him that $44 million because I believe in the kid. If you look at our roster, we have five or six guys in the last year of their deals, plus David (West) and Roy (Hibbert) can opt out, so don’t you think I wanted to keep Lance and Paul (George) locked into long-term deals?”

Just read this part again: “Even if he didn’t have any other offers, I was committed to giving him that $44 million because I believe in the kid.”

Bird did a lot for Stephenson, drafting him and helping him grow up. Without Bird, Stephenson might be out of the NBA right now.

But committing to $44 million because you believe in him? Give me a break.

Bird offered $44 million, because he believed that provided the Pacers value within their limitations (likely remaining under the luxury tax). If he believed Stephenson’s best offer would be a minimum contract, Bird sure wasn’t offering Stephenson $44 million.

No matter how the Pacers try to come out smelling like roses, they declined to offer Stephenson enough money to keep him. Even if Bird thought $44 million over five years was enough, it wasn’t.

Stephenson wanted a bigger contract or flexibility go get one soon. Bird wouldn’t or couldn’t deliver that, so Stephenson left. It’s that simple.

Spare me the spin about Bird believing in Stephenson.

Stephenson believed in himself more than Bird believed in him, and that’s why the Hornets have a new guard. Maybe Stephenson will regret that, but he didn’t owe Bird re-signing in Indiana because that $44 million was a kind act out of the goodness of Bird’s heart.

Bird was playing the game – just like Stephenson did.

 

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

AP Photo/R Brent Smith
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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.

Report: LeBron James not planning to sit for elaborate pitch meetings in free agency

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LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.

But maybe once is enough.

Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.

league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.

LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.

If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.

This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.

Report: Nuggets re-signing Nikola Jokic to five-year max after declining team option

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The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.

But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.

Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.

That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.

Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.

As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.

Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.