At that point, if the Houston Rockets exercise their right to prevent Chandler Parsons from leaving for Dallas, the Mavs could have that closing-time feel. When the favorite targets have left the dance floor, a sense of desperation kicks in and flaws are a lot easier to overlook.
The concerns about Stephenson's character caused the Mavs to consider him untouchable not too long ago. Now, he's at the top of their list of Parsons fallback targets, by process of elimination as much as anything.
The free-agent small forwards flew off the board Saturday. It started with Trevor Ariza signing a four-year, $32 million deal with the Rockets. Paul Pierce went to the Washington Wizards for $11 million over two years. And the Miami Heat are close to locking up Luol Deng to a two-year deal in the $20 million range.
If Deng does commit to Miami, that leaves Stephenson and Marion as the starting-quality small forwards left in free agency, in the eyes of the Mavs. Of course, the 6-foot-5 Stephenson is really a shooting guard whom the Mavs would shift to small forward out of necessity in the Mavs' starting lineup. And the Dallas decision-makers have done everything in their power to replace the 36-year-old Marion, with all due respect to a man who has arguably earned the right to have his No. 0 hang from the American Airlines Center rafters in the not-too-distant future.
If denied Parsons, the Mavs probably will swallow hard and try to sign Stephenson, who has a five-year, $44 million offer on the table to return to the Indiana Pacers.
They'd be betting on the upside of a talented if erratic 23-year-old who joined Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Nicolas Batum as the league's only players to average at least 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists last season. The Mavs might try to minimize the risk by offering a higher salary on a short-term deal.
An offer for Marion, who has said he hopes to play two more seasons before retiring in the Dallas area, would obviously be short term. It probably would be in the range of $5 million per year, leaving the Mavs plenty of wiggle room under the salary cap, not that there are many appealing options left at any positions in the market.