At the beginning of this summer’s free agent signing period, the Pacers pulled out all the stops to make their pitch to Lance Stephenson.
But they also may have done something that forced him to look elsewhere.
Indiana came with what it believed was a fair offer of five years and $44 million, but also set an artificial deadline for Stephenson to accept it. Wisely, Stephenson declined, wanting to see if he could make more on the open market instead.
“I wanted to stay there but they gave me a deadline where I had to choose,” Stephenson said. “So there wasn’t no time for me to make a decision. They gave me a deadline (before) how long it (was) going to take for them to go somewhere else.
“I had to make a quick decision and me and my agent decided we would see what other teams (were) talking about.”
On July 2, the Pacers turned their attention to Plan B and agreed to terms with free agent CJ Miles. In Stephenson’s view, the Miles’ deal sealed his departure from the Pacers.
“They didn’t have nothing else. They had no more money or anything. That was basically it right there,” Stephenson said. “Soon as I said no to that offer, they went and signed CJ. I figured they thought I had no chance of coming back, they just went on and signed CJ. … I felt like it was a wrap after that.”
It’s very possible that the Pacers did all of this on purpose.
Stephenson was one of Indiana’s only two consistent playmakers on the offensive end of the floor last season, but he also came unhinged emotionally at the worst possible time during the Eastern Conference Finals. It was believed all along that the Pacers would only go so far in offering Stephenson a deal to re-sign, and while the numbers appeared to be fair on the surface (and could fool the team’s fans into thinking that the offer was sincere), the reality was that Stephenson could likely do better somewhere else.
The fact that the team placed an artificial deadline on him accepting the deal essentially ensured that Stephenson wouldn’t take it, and going out and signing Miles once Stephenson declined (which reduced the team’s available cap space in the process) only made it less likely that a deal with Stephenson would eventually get done — and Pacers president Larry Bird knew that.