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Grading The Deal: Lance Stephenson Leaves Pacers For Hornets

The Indiana Pacers must find a way to replace Lance Stephenson midway through the offseason. Stephenson has agreed to a three-year, $27.5 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets. The third season is a team option.

As my RealGM colleague Shams Charania reported, Stephenson met with Michael Jordan and other team officials in Las Vegas on Tuesday night when the offer was presented. The Pacers offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal shortly after free agency opened on July 1, but the two sides were not on the same page as time progressed. The Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks all had varying degrees of interest in Stephenson as well.

Stephenson’s agent, Al Ebanks, told Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star that his client was seeking a short-term deal, which explains why he wasn’t quick to take more guaranteed money from the Pacers with an additional two years of security. Stephenson will make $1.5 million more in Charlotte this coming season than he would have under the reported Indiana offer. The total value of the Pacers’ offer was $16.5 million greater.

Four years after Larry Bird gambled on Stephenson in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft, Stephenson is gambling on himself. Even if the Hornets exercise the third-year option on his contract, Stephenson will be an unrestricted free agent once again at just 26 years old.

Grade for Stephenson: B-

There are two reasons why Stephenson is taking a calculated risk. There will be a larger offensive role for Stephenson in Charlotte, which could increase his value down the line. In addition, the NBA’s current television rights agreement ends after the 2015-16 season. Reports have indicated that the league will look to double the current fee, which would have a huge impact on future salary cap numbers and contract figures.

With that said, Stephenson is taking a chance. If he doesn’t continue to develop, which most expect him to do on a young, emerging team, he may not earn back the money he left on the table over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons (the back end of the initial Indiana offer). He also loses some the shine that comes from playing for a contender, which the Pacers may no longer be without him.

Ebanks stressed Stephenson’s desire for a shorter term deal than the Pacers offered, but the elephant in the room is the fact that he didn’t get that much more money. The average annual value of the Charlotte deal is just $300,000 greater than he have earned with Indiana. That leaves us to decide whether Stephenson was left hanging when the market died up and the Pacers moved on, or he truly valued hitting the market again in three years over waiting until his late 20s.

The Pacers will undoubtedly miss Stephenson, who provided much of their edge during the 2014 postseason, but it seems plausible that one of two things happened during negotiations. They pulled $44M offer off the table when Stephenson hesitated, or they offered him a five-year deal knowing full well that he wasn’t going to sign a contract of that length. Either way, Bird made a decision on how he valued Lance and didn’t budge.

I reached out to both sides asking if Indiana’s initial offer was still on the table up until the Hornets agreement, but both declined to comment.

Grade for Pacers: D+

Indiana deserves some credit for standing firm with their offer, especially in team’s NBA, but this loss cannot be looked at solely in a vacuum.

The Miami Heat took a step back with the loss of LeBron James, opening up the short-term window for the Pacers to contend. When LeBron left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will need some seasoning before reaching an elite level, Bird and Co. should have seen it as an opportunity to finally get back to the NBA Finals. The Eastern Conference is no longer top-heavy, but with Stephenson re-signed the Pacers would have been the favorite among a number of possible contenders -- including Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and Toronto.

Chemistry will often be mentioned as a positive for the Pacers with Stephenson gone, but that’s overstated. He may have cost himself a few million with his antics against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, but Indiana will severely miss his offensive tools and competitive nature.

The Pacers had the best defense in the NBA in 2013-14, but they scored just 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 23rd. Stephenson was often the only player on the roster capable of jumpstarting Frank Vogel’s offense when it stalled. He is volatile, and at times selfish, but can be a creative and willing passer. He led the Pacers in assists this past season.

Indiana needed help on the offensive end, even after signing C.J. Miles and Damjan Rudez earlier this month, and the loss of Stephenson compounds the issue. Bird will almost certainly have to address the need via trade, unless the club is able to shed salary in a deal and sign a free agent outright. The market isn’t exactly flush with options at this point and if a cash-saving trade was easy, one might have already been made to free up space for a larger Stephenson offer or to target someone that is already signed.

Rodney Stuckey and O.J. Mayo have been mentioned in the past and present as options. Stuckey is a free agent, while Mayo would have to be acquired from the Bucks via trade.

Adding Stephenson looks like an odd move for the Hornets on the surface, but considering the current state of the Eastern Conference it helps their chances of making the playoffs for the second-straight season. Charlotte has Gerald Henderson and Gary Neal at shooting guard, which may mean a trade is forthcoming.

Signing Stephenson for roughly $9 million annually is good value, even if it carries risk as he becomes the second option on a good team after being the fourth option on a very good team.

Grade for Hornets: B

Kemba Walker, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, stands to lose the most. Stephenson is at his best with the ball in his hands, which will reduce opportunities for the third-year guard. Stephenson was Plan B for the Hornets, who signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $63 million offer sheet and then watched the Utah Jazz match it over the weekend. If the Jazz let Hayward go to the Hornets, Stephenson might have been forced to re-sign with the Pacers.

Like the Pacers, the Bobcats tend to struggle offensively. That means more latitude for Stephenson, but how will he handle himself without as much veteran leadership, fewer meaningful games and suddenly flush with cash remains to be seen.

Grading The Deal: Celtics Capitalize In Three-Team Deal With Cavs, Nets

The Cleveland Cavaliers wanted to create cap space to facilitate a max offer for LeBron James and the Brooklyn Nets had been targeting Jarrett Jack for months, creating the framework for a trade that needed a third team.

The Boston Celtics were more than happy to grease the wheels, adding to an abundance of long-term assets in the process.

Cleveland will trade Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev to Brooklyn and Tyler Zeller and a protected first-round pick in 2016 to Boston, shedding approximately $9.5 million in salary.  The trade helps give the Cavaliers $21.7 million in cap space, spurring speculation that LeBron could return to his home state and the franchise that made him the first overall pick in 2003.

The Cavaliers will also acquire the draft rights to Edin Bavcic and Ilkan Karaman from the Nets. While the Cavaliers are the principal team in the deal, Boston will also acquire Marcus Thornton from Brooklyn to complete the trade.

The Celtics will reportedly surrender a future second-round selection, but is unlikely to be conveyed since it is top-55 protected.

Brooklyn needed help in the backcourt after Shaun Livingston signed with the Golden State Warriors as a free agent. The Nets and Cavaliers reportedly discussed Jack last February before Brooklyn acquired Thornton from the Sacramento Kings.

Danny Ainge and Mike Zarren are able to add a pair of assets in Zeller and a first-round pick for the cost of Thornton’s expiring $8.5 million contract. Boston has so many future draft picks that parting with a second-rounder was an easy decision.

The Celtics were able to take on the salaries of Zeller and Thornton thanks to the $10.3 million trade exception they acquired from the Nets last offseason in the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett deal. It might be a good idea for Mikhail Prokhorov to bar Billy King from negotiating with Ainge in the future.

Zeller gives Brad Stevens a much-needed big body and the 24-year-old could still develop into something more than he was in Cleveland, but he’ll never be the rim protector that Boston is lacking. At his price point and experience, he should be a nice option off the bench.

He averaged just 15 minutes and 4.1 attempts in 2013-14, but Zeller shot 53.8% from the field and his Total Rebound Percentage (15.1%) ranked third among Cleveland’s regulars. His per 36 numbers last season were solid -- 13.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

Thornton, who will play for his fourth team since he was drafted 43rd overall in 2009, will provide scoring and not much else for the Celtics. He has averaged 13.4 points per game in his career, but never shot better than 45.1% over the course of a full season. His shooting percentages have all trended downward over the last three years, including a career-low 39.4% in 2013-14.

Primarily the top scorer off the bench throughout his career, which had included 126 starts (341 games), Thornton tends to use up several possessions while rarely finding teammates in position to score. He’s a better shooter, but in many ways he will be Jordan Crawford 2.0.

As you might expect, Cleveland’s 2016 first-round pick is the biggest part of this deal from Boston’s perspective. The selection is reportedly top-10 protected for three years until it becomes completely unprotected in 2019. With Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins (or Kevin Love) and possibility LeBron in the fold, the Celtics should except to receive the pick in the first possible draft.

Grade for the Celtics: A-

It’s hard to assume what else the Celtics could have done with the $10.3 million trade exception, but receiving what they did is a very nice haul. Adding a seven-footer to your rotation and a first-round pick is an obvious win, but Thornton’s expiring deal brings other options as well.

A playoff contender might be interested in acquiring Thornton, who would be due just a portion of his $8.5 million salary, at midseason to bolster their bench.

I mentioned Love above in regards to the Cavaliers, but Ainge is still believed to be in the hunt to acquire the All-Star from the Minnesota Timberwolves. An additional pick in the debt column should help Boston’s cause if they do engage in serious talks with Minnesota.

Here is the breakdown of the first-round picks the Celtics have through 2018:

2015: Own, Clippers, 76ers 15-30 (via Heat)

2016: Own, Nets

2017: Own or Nets, whichever is better

2018: Own, Nets

The Celtics have a ton of tools to execute a successful rebuild, but will have to find the perfect combination of using picks and dealing them for established talent over the next four years.

Grading The Deal: Celtics Keep Avery Bradley

The Boston Celtics acted quickly in reaching terms with Avery Bradley on a new contract, agreeing to a four-year, $32 million deal on Wednesday. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald first reported that Bradley would remain with the Celtics.

Bradley entered July as a restricted free agent after the Celtics extended his $3.6 million qualifying offer earlier this week. Boston drafted Bradley with the 19th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

In a vacuum, spending $8 million annually on Bradley seems careless, but it’s not as troubling when you consider the other contracts that have been agreed upon since free agency opened (see: Jodie Meeks and Ben Gordon). It’s not smart to grade the terms of a contract solely on what others are doing, but it has become clear rather quickly that 2014 will be a lucrative summer.

Bradley is a 23-year-old four-year veteran, but a series of injuries (ankle, shoulders) have kept him from putting together a complete season. He has averaged just 51 games played per season, including 60 this past year as the Celtics endured a transitional season. There are significant questions about his offensive game, but his ability to stay healthy is the biggest question mark surrounding his future.

Danny Ainge and the Boston medical staff don’t expect any of Bradley past injuries to prove chronic, despite a pair of shoulder surgeries in 2012 that had lasting effects on his game.

Brad Stevens can always count on Bradley for great defense, he’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, but his offensive game has left many wanting more. He was a horrible shooter during his rookie season of 2010-11 when he had a 36 True Shooting Percentage. However, his ability to develop a three-point shot has helped make him a more efficient scorer.

Bradley was percentage points (49.8%) away from being a 50% shooter in 2011-12 and made 40.7% of his threes, but the aforementioned shoulder woes hindered any further development. During the 2012-13 season, he shot 40.2% from the field and 31.7% from three as he regressed.

Given more time to heal and put in work without restrictions, Bradley accomplished an impressive feat this past season. He increased his usage rate to 23.2% (up from 17.9 in 2011-12 and 18.8 in 2012-13), while also featuring an improved shot. He shot just 43.8% overall, but made 39.5% of his threes. His three-point percentage is significant because he attempted a career-high 3.3 per game.

Assuming his three-point shot has leveled off and will remain a reliable option, Bradley’s next task will be to improve his midrange shot. Opposing teams are going to key in on running Bradley off the three-point line and into the danger zone. In his career, he shoots just 28.4% from 3-10 feet out and 32.1% from 10-16 feet.

Grade for Bradley: A

Bradley is comfortable in Boston and had stated a desire to re-sign with the Celtics. Landing long-term security and a pretty large payday given his injury history is a huge win for the former Texas Longhorn. Reports have suggested that Bradley and his representation requested this sort of deal prior to the 2013-14 season, but the Celtics weren’t willing to take the plunge. I’m not sure what Ainge and Co. saw over the last eight months that convinced them to pull the trigger, but they seem confident Bradley will be healthy and that he’s not done developing.

Grade for the Celtics: B-

The terms of this deal were eye-popping when first reported, but it seems as though $8 million per season is the new mid-level, average NBA contract for a rotation player under 30. It’s simply conjecture, but I’d imagine that Brad Stevens had a significant say in re-signing Bradley at this number. Stevens has a year with the Celtics under his belt and values the toughness and defense that Bradley brings to the court.

It was a bit puzzling that Boston was able to come to terms so quickly with Bradley, especially since the Philadelphia 76ers were also believed to be very interested in his services and they have what may become a crowded backcourt.

Ainge maintains that Rajon Rondo isn’t being shopped even though the Celtics used the sixth overall pick on Marcus Smart last week. The team has also been linked to another restricted free agent -- Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas.

Bradley and Rondo have plenty of experience playing together and you can add Smart into a strong three-guard rotation that was a revolving door last season.

The Market For Lance Stephenson

No matter how strong the mutual interest in between the Pacers and Lance Stephenson, it’s money that determines most offseason decisions.

What They Said: Rundown From 2014 NBA Draft Night

A deep draft class means there was plenty of consternation regarding who would end up where and that many of the league’s newest players were in attendance on the biggest night of their life. Here’s a rundown of what they had to say moments after realizing their dream.

David West Plays Vital Role In Helping T.J. Warren Realize NBA Dream

T.J. Warren is the first player drafted that worked directly with David West through his AAU Garner Road Basketball Club program.

McDermott Looks At 2014 Draft Class In Historical Terms

Doug McDermott believes the 2014 NBA Draft will eventually rank among the best in league history.

Heat Throttle Pacers, Who End Once-Promising Season Miserably

The Pacers owned the first four minutes of Game 6 before the Heat turned on the jets and coasted into the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row.

George Erupts In Fourth, Pacers Hold On To Force Game 6 Against Heat

Paul George scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and LeBron James was hampered by foul trouble as the Pacers topped the Heat to force a Game 6 back in Miami.

Pacers Wallow Through Game 4 Loss, Face Early Elimination Against Heat

Chris Bosh scored the game's first eight points and the Heat never looked back in Game 4, pushing the Pacers to the brink as the series moves back to Indianapolis.

Pacers Lose Control In Second Quarter, Heat Dominate Second Half To Win Game 3

After the Pacers built a 15-point lead in the second quarter, Ray Allen helped the Heat put them away with a three-point barrage midway through the fourth.

LeBron, Wade Dominate Late, Pacers Miss Chance To Take Commanding Lead

The Pacers were a few minutes away from taking a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade went on a game-winning run to save the Heat.

76ers Promising Rookies Playing Time, Big Market

The 76ers, who have the third and tenth picks, are promising rookies playing time and a big platform in Philadelphia with the chance to improve immediately.

Pacers Come To Play, Take Game 1 Against Heat

The Pacers took Game 1 against the Heat thanks to their best offensive effort of the postseason, shooting 52% and assisting on 23 of their 35 field goals in a 107-96 victory on Sunday afternoon.

West Takes Control, Pacers Respond Late To Eliminate Wizards

David West put the Pacers on his back when the Wizards briefly took the lead in the fourth quarter of Game 6, ensuring a long-awaited rematch with the Heat.

Bucks Prepared To Cash In At Lottery, Execute Quick Rebuild

Since the Bucks can finish no worse than fourth in the draft order, they can rest assured they will land either Wiggins, Parker, Embiid, Dante Exum or Julius Randle. With a free agent class that could be top-heavy if any number of stars opt for the open market, they can then go about adding a talented veteran to augment their young core.

Wizards Outwork Pacers, Dominate Game 5

With a chance to send the Wizards home, the Pacers showed little effort or energy in a 102-79 loss in Game 5. They are now headed back to Washington, D.C. with all their momentum gone.

George Refuses To Lose, Pacers Storm Back In Game 4

The Pacers are one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals after rallying from a 19-point deficit in the third quarter on Sunday night to take Game 4 over the Wizards.

Pacers Win Low-Scoring Game 3 Over Wizards

The Pacers scored 51 points in the second half to beat the Wizards in Game 3, which featured some historically bad offense.

Hibbert Rises, Pacers Earn Split Heading To D.C.

Roy Hibbert responded to his critics with 28 points and nine rebounds when the Pacers needed him most, leading his team to an 86-82 win over the Wizards in Game 2.

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