Lightning match offer for Stephen Maxwell
By Justin Prince
Note: This story was originally published on NBLCentral.
The London Lightning are matching the Niagara River Lions' contract offer for Stephen Maxwell.
The Lightning notified the National Basketball League of Canada of its decision early Wednesday morning. Richard Petko, founder and CEO of the River Lions, said his team received confirmation from the league about London's intentions through email.
Petko said the Lightning had verbally told NBL Canada, which shares offices with the London-based franchise, that it would match the offer.
London had until 2 p.m. to match Niagara's offer.
The London Free Press's Morris Dalla Costa was the first to report the team's intentions.
London had also matched an offer for Warren Ward 10 days ago, according to Dalla Costa.
Lightning owner Vito Frijia would not comment to NBLCentral about the situation.
"Obviously I feel disappointed," said Petko. "Stephen Maxwell is a top-three player in the league. We took our best shot at getting him ... We knew he would be a starter on our team and knew he would be a dominate player. We now have to prepare to play against him, which we have full confidence in doing."
Maxwell was one of the Lightning's best players last season, averaging 17 points per game and 11.8 rebounds per game during the team's NBLC Finals run. The 23-year-old also won the NBL Canada Rookie of the Year Award. He was the first rookie in NBLC history to average a double-double.
Maxwell had signed an offer sheet with the River Lions 2 p.m. Monday, according to Petko.
Petko said he feels the team will still be a championship contender without Maxwell. The River Lions have signed players such as former Windsor Express starters Chris Commons and Kirk Williams Jr., veteran point guard Tyler Murray and former Lightning forward Tyshawn Patterson this offseason.
"Maxwell was an addition to a team that we feel is going to be very strong," said Petko. "He's a game-changing player, but it's not like we don't have confidence with the team we have right now ... Maxwell is an interior player and we are happy with the interior players we have and we think we'll have a great team."
Maxwell had been one of the team's six protected players list this offseason. If anyone of that list signs with another franchise, the original team has the option to match their offer.
With the matched deal, the Lightning will be able to retain his NBLC signing rights. Maxwell can still play in other leagues if he so chooses.
Petko said that while the River Lions would be open to a trade if offered by the Lightning involving Maxwell as long "as it's adventitious" to Niagara, the offer sheet signing was a one-time shot at getting Maxwell.
"We didn't think we could pass up an opportunity to take a shot at him," said Petko. "This isn't a blight on the players we have. We know who we have we can win an NBL championship with. This was just a shot to improve the team even better."
The Lightning will start training camp Dec. 1.