When the Los Angeles Lakers signed LeBron James last summer, it was no surprise they focused on finding veteran free agents who could help him on his quest to bring a championship to the purple and gold.
After all, it’s fairly common in the NBA for veterans to latch on with contending teams hoping for one last shot at a winner. What was surprising was that Lance Stephenson was one such player.
Stephenson was known for his on-court antics as much as his ability, which includes a long history of being a thorn in James’ side when the Miami Heat took on Stephenson’s Indiana Pacers in the playoffs. Stephenson did what he could to get under James’ skin like blowing in his ear in a moment that became a meme sensation.
With a new beginning in Los Angeles now, James apparently figured that Stephenson — after all the battles they had been through — was the kind of player that he wanted to be in the foxhole with.
The problem was that Stephenson is an incredibly streaky player. He can shoot teams out of games just as easily as into them, leaving former head coach Luke Walton to roll the dice each night. On a team relying on a very young core of Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram to do the heavy lifting alongside James, the Lakers needed veterans who could provide stability and consistency — which made the decision to go with Stephenson all the more surprising.
That said, when Stephenson had it going, he was a ton of fun. His air guitar celebration after made three-pointers was endearing, and he was actually one of the team’s better marksman at 37% from that range despite just 31% for his career.
Despite his reputation as a strong defender, Stephenson actually saw opponents shoot better when he was guarding them. This was particularly true in pick-and-roll situations, where he ranked in the 21st percentile per Synergy.
As one of just a few non-James players who could create his own shot, Stephenson’s skillset was needed and he even had to play some minutes at point guard when the injury bug wreaked havoc on the team’s roster.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad season from Stephenson, as he slightly exceeded expectations while providing some entertainment value for the crowd. Still, at just shy of $4.5 million for the season, the Lakers would have likely been better off spending their money elsewhere, such as retaining Brook Lopez.
Highlight Of The 2018-19 Lakers Season
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 27, 2019
Lance can indeed make ‘em dance.
The Lakers believed that Stephenson would give them a toughness that would come in handy in the 2019 NBA playoffs, but obviously, that didn’t come to pass. While he was entertaining and versatile enough to fill multiple roles, his inconsistency makes him a tough fit.
Additionally, with former president of basketball operations Magic Johnson gone and general manager Rob Pelinka running the show, the team’s front office is under siege. They have been heavily criticized for the roster they put together last season around James, so it would be surprising to see them bring back a supporting cast that didn’t work.
Stephenson played well enough to prove that he belongs in the league, but he shouldn’t be a player the Lakers prioritize retaining this summer.