Lance Stephenson was always viewed as a free agent who could see his market heat up once the major dominoes started to fall. The Los Angeles Lakers emerged as a potential landing spot given their need to add talent around Kobe Bryant.
Chris Broussard of ESPN reported earlier in the week that Stephenson was making very little progress in contract talks with the Indiana Pacers despite wanting to stay. The Lakers were one of three teams showing interest as he began to explore other opportunities:
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.
Since that point, LeBron James announced he was heading back home to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers in an exclusive with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported Carmelo Anthony had agreed to a new deal with the New York Knicks.
As for the Lakers, they were hoping to retain Pau Gasol, but it appears a sign-and-trade agreement is now close with the Chicago Bulls. Jesus Sanchez of Marca reports a deal is expected soon so Gasol can undergo his physical before returning to Spain:
Finally, the Catalan power forward will in all probability continue his sporting career with the Chicago Bulls.
The Spaniard has virtually closed the deal with Chicago and will undergo the usual medical tests before returning to Barcelona in the next few days.
Since the Lakers missed out on the two biggest names available and couldn't convince Gasol to re-sign, it would seem to make a run at Stephenson more likely.
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The 23-year-old guard averaged nearly 14 points, seven rebounds and a shade under five assists per game while shooting 49 percent from the floor last season. It represented a major step forward in his fourth season after taking on a bigger role for the first time the year before.
His on-court antics during the Eastern Conference Finals rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, however. He was apparently trying to establish a mental edge over the Miami Heat with things like blowing in James' ear.
That's probably why a player who's displayed steady development hasn't attracted even more interest on the free-agent market. Now, it sounds like the Lakers may not get heavily involved, either.
Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times reports Stephenson isn't in the team's price range:
Those still asking - unless Melo, Bledsoe, Monroe, Stephenson, etc. are coming for $2.7 mil - no they won't be Lakers on opening night— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) July 12, 2014
Furthermore, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN states the Lakers are focused on keeping their options open for free agency next summer and are thus looking at short-term deals only:
Lakers plan is pretty much to try again with big free agent next summer, hence paying big $ for one-two year deals like JHill— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 12, 2014
Neither of those notes points toward Stephenson landing with the Lakers.
If Los Angeles stays on that course, it will be impossible to know until next offseason whether they made the right decision. The roster as it's currently constructed isn't built to contend, and writer Keith Sharon notes they have to finish in the bottom five to keep their pick:
Lakers have to tank to insure top five protected draft pick next year— Keith Sharon (@KeithSharonOC) July 12, 2014
Should the Lakers end up with an early selection and are able to sign a couple prized free agents next summer, the plan will work out perfectly. If not, passing on a player like Stephenson will sure seem like a missed opportunity.
It should make for a very interesting year in Laker Land.