Mavs soften stance on Lance Stephenson

Lance Stephenson is no longer an untouchably toxic topic for the Mavericks’ front office.

Stephenson, the talented Indiana Pacers free-agent swingman with some significant character red flags, is by no means near the top of the Mavs’ board. However, the Mavs have registered mild interest in Stephenson recently, as ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported.

“He definitely needs to be on the list,” a team source told ESPNDallas.com. “You’ve got to look at all those guys. They’ve all got warts or they’d get max contracts.”

Make no mistake: the Mavs will not outbid the Pacers, who have offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal that he considers far too low. Dallas does not intend to come close to that offer but could negotiate with Stephenson if the Pacers move on from him. For him to sign with the Mavs, a source said, the contract couldn’t be too cumbersome for the team to move on if it deemed necessary.

But if Stephenson tumbles through the cracks of free agency, like Monta Ellis last summer, Dallas is a potential destination for him if the Mavs miss out on the superstars and Plan B targets such as Chandler Parsons, Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng.

The Mavs are operating under the assumption that they won’t land Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James. Parsons is a long shot because of the Houston Rockets’ right to match any offer for the restricted free agent. There is an anticipation that Deng will sign with the Atlanta Hawks, making Ariza perhaps the Mavs’ most likely Plan B target.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Stephenson, who averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists while leading the league in triple-doubles as a 23-year-old last season, is far from a perfect fit for the Mavs. There are legitimate basketball issues, such as his tendency to over-dribble and the fact that he’d be undersized as a starting small forward. But his potential negative impact on the team’s culture is the primary reason the Mavs had been so cool on Stephenson, who repeatedly rubbed his Indiana teammates the wrong way long before his controversial antics drew so much attention during the playoffs.

A week into free agency, the Mavs have at least become lukewarm on Stephenson. It’s still a long shot, but that’s a long way from the Mavs’ first stance against adding Stephenson entering the summer.