In the end, flashing the choke sign at LeBron James and then blowing in the four-time NBA MVP's ear wasn't the silliest thing Lance Stephenson ever did.
The most foolish thing Stephenson and his lawyer/agent, Alberto Ebanks, did was turning down the Indiana Pacers' five-year, $44 million contract.
Do the math.
If he had stayed, he would have earned a guaranteed $44 million, more than enough money and security to take care of his family, his children and their mothers. That comes out to an average of $8.8 million.
Instead, he overreached and found himself doomed by his own pride, accepting a three-year deal, with a third year being a Charlotte Hornets' team option. It guarantees him only two years and $18 million. If he stays for the third year (which is a team option), he will make roughly $27 million. If my math is right, that's $9 million a year, a tad more than the Pacers offered.
So for a couple hundred thousand dollars, a pittance by basketball standards, Stephenson bolted the only home he's ever had in the NBA, a place where he has his biggest supporter in Pacers President Larry Bird, a place where he is loved by fans despite his occasional forays into goofy behavior.
All for a chance to go to a team that earned the seventh seed in last year's Eastern Conference playoffs.
Stephenson got bad advice from his agent and he took that bad advice.
For Bird, it was the ultimate head-scratcher.
What if Stephenson gets injured before he has a chance to re-enter free agency, where he thinks he will be in line for a massive, elite payday? Who turns down security unless the cash value is significantly higher elsewhere?
But Stephenson's people wanted more, wanted $12 million to $14 million from the Pacers, according to the team's president. They were looking for a $55 million contract. When the offer came in at $44 million, they scoffed.
Stephenson accepted the shorter-term deal because it's assumed that in a few years time, the salary cap will increase quite dramatically and he will be in line for the monster raise he thinks he deserves.
Except that according to Bird, the Pacers were willing to offer a shorter-term contract that would have given Stephenson the chance to cash in should his game continue to grow the way both he and Bird believe it will. The Pacers were also willing, however grudgingly, to give Stephenson a player option after four years of a five-year contract so that he could opt-out and test the market once the cap money increased.
The Pacers also will have far less money on the books in the coming years, when Stephenson could have potentially renegotiated.
At the time, though, the numbers didn't add up for Ebanks and Stephenson.
Truth be told, they still don't.
"I really feel bad about losing him,'' Bird said. "I hope it doesn't interfere with our relationship. But I did what I could possibly do to keep him here. Even if he didn't have any other offers, I was committed to giving him that $44 million because I believe in the kid. If you look at our roster, we have five or six guys in the last year of their deals, plus David (West) and Roy (Hibbert) can opt out, so don't you think I wanted to keep Lance and Paul (George) locked into long-term deals?''
But it came down to this.
Stephenson and his agent thought he belonged in eight-figure-a-year territory, $10 million or more, much more, and the Pacers were right to stand firm. Stephenson is a nice player, but he's not a $10-million-plus player, not yet anyway. If the Pacers had met that price, they would have been left with a thoroughly depleted bench and been forced to deal with the luxury tax.
And in the end, Stephenson didn't get his eight figures.
When Bird met with Stephenson, his family and his agent the first night of free agency, he had a couple of five-year options and was sure one of them was going to be acceptable. But a few days later, Ebanks called back Bird and told him, "I don't think this is going to work. I don't believe you have the money available to re-sign Lance.''
Bird was stunned.
They ultimately went back and forth, contemplated different options, but the money was never right.
Of all the head-scratchers, this is the biggest: Why would Stephenson accept a team option in the third year? A player option would make some sense. If he blew up and became an All-Star, he could opt out and hit the lottery. But a team option gives Michael Jordan and the Hornets all the leverage. If Stephenson develops into a top-tier player, Jordan locks him into the last year of the contract. If he struggles or screws up, the team can just drop him.
Bird could stomach this if Stephenson had left for much greener pastures, a lot more cash. But the argument can be made that he left for a worse deal.
"It's just disappointing,'' Bird said. "When I'd go to practices, when he was on, he was by far our best player. And he worked. If you work as hard as he does, you're going to get better. I'm going to miss the kid, no question. And he's growing up. That stuff he pulled in the playoffs, that was out of the blue. But I knew how good Lance was and the value he brought to our team.''
In the end, he wasn't worth $10 million or more.
Not to the Pacers, not to anybody.
Edited by teeray, 20 July 2014 - 11:40 PM.