The Los Angeles Lakers might not end up signing a big name free agent like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony this summer, though there’s a chance they could attempt to sign a rising star.
“The Lakers, Bulls and Bobcats will be among the teams who can and would offer an ample payday and increased opportunity for Stephenson this summer,” wrote Sean Deveny from Sporting News.
Stephenson is having a career year and is currently averaging 14.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. The 23-year-old is a borderline All-Star and is thought to be one of the league’s up-and-coming players.
The Indiana Pacers are faced with a dilemma in Stephenson: They can offer him a maximum of five years and $57 million this coming summer, though their books are already full of players on large fairly contracts.
Next season, the Pacers will owe nearly $19 million to Paul George, nearly $15 million to Roy Hibbert and $12 million to David West. Then there’s George Hill ($8 million), Luis Scola ($4.5 million) and Ian Mahinmi ($4 million).
If they add Stephenson to the mix, they’ll owe him around $11 million a year. That’ll rack up quite a big tax bill, and that’s one reason teams like the Lakers might be able to pry away the rising star from Indiana.
However, as with Eric Bledsoe, signing Stephenson to a max contract would likely limit the Lakers’ future flexibility. The Lakers could offer Stephenson a maximum deal of four years and $43 million dollars, which works out at roughly $11 million per year. Seeing as Kobe Bryant is set to earn $25 million in the 2015-16 season, signing someone like Kevin Love to a max deal in 2015 could possibly be off the cards if Stephenson is signed to a large contract.
Even if the Lakers did decide to offer Stephenson a max deal, the Pacers could decide to simply bite the bullet and match the offer or go one better with a five-year deal.
However, seeing as Stephenson is set to be an unrestricted free agent, it would be up to him to decide on which offer to take. That’s why he may be a player that the Lakers are targeting. It would probably make more sense for the Lakers to pursue Stephenson as opposed to someone like Bledsoe who will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Suns could match any offer made and force Bledsoe back to Phoenix.
If the Pacers do decide to give the 23-year-old a big pay day, they’d have to foot a hefty luxury tax bill, though they could decide to pay the price if it means contending for an NBA title.
After all, if the Pacers end up in the Finals this year and win a ring, it would probably be hard for them to break up a championship roster.
That’s happened in the past, though, so never say never.