Nearly a week after the Indiana Pacers offered talented but controversial guard Lance Stephenson a five-year, $44 million contract, the two sides remain far apart on a deal, according to sources close to the situation.
Although his desire is to remain with the Pacers, a disappointed Stephenson began exploring the free-agent market after receiving what he felt was a low-ball offer on Tuesday, sources said.
Stephenson has drawn interest from the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, although both teams have other free agents prioritized above Stephenson, according to sources. The Boston Celtics have also shown interest in Stephenson, according to a source.
The Celtics already reached agreement with restricted free agent guard Avery Bradley on a four-year, $32 million deal that will officially be consummated when the league's moratorium lifts later this week. So why the possible interest in Stephenson?
The 23-year-old Stephenson is an All-Star-caliber player who combines gritty defensive play with the ability to fill up a stat sheet (he led the league with five triple-doubles last season). Sure, there are questions about his ability to stay focused and avoid the sort of mind games that drew headlines when he messed with LeBron James during the Eastern Conference finals, but the talent is undeniable.
With Stephenson balking at a reported five-year, $44 million offer from the Pacers, the Celtics are likely exploring the potential availability of a young talent. While Boston doesn't have the available cap space to sign Stephenson outright, they do have a couple of potential avenues:
Boston has a $10.3 million trade exception from last summer's Brooklyn blockbuster that's set to expire on Saturday. The Celtics could dangle that -- and maybe draft picks -- at the Pacers should Indiana decide against increasing its offer to Stephenson. The Celtics also have big-ticket talent that they could offer in exchange for Stevenson (depending on his salary demands, that could be the likes of Jeff Green at $9.2 million or Rajon Rondo at $12.9 million). Either way, the Pacers would be able to bring back talent in exchange for helping the Celtics sign a player they couldn't otherwise land on the open market.
The Celtics have a desire to improve their team and must explore options such as Stephenson, particularly with the trade exception set to expire. There's no harm if it goes unused, but it's an asset that can help add talent and the Celtics will almost certainly attempt to utilize it, even if they use just a portion of the total amount.
Boston's recent moves, whether it was drafting of Marcus Smart and James Young, or the impending re-signing of Bradley, leave more glaring roster needs than what Stephenson can bring. But when you're rebuilding, talent is what you seek and you figure out how it all works together later.