The Los Angeles Lakers announced that they have officially signed Lance Stephenson. Per team policy, the terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but Chris Haynes of ESPN reported that Stephenson’s deal is a one-year, $4.5 million contract.
"I'm so excited for this season!" -@StephensonLance pic.twitter.com/Hs5qiDlsgJ— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) July 10, 2018
“It’s incredibly exciting to have Lance join our team,” said Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka in a statement. “Lance is playoff-tested and will bring a certain edge, confidence and toughness to our roster. His multi-positional versatility and open-court playmaking abilities are key ingredients for the basketball style we designed for next season.”
In addition to getting Pelinka’s approval, Stephenson joins the Lakers as a LeBron James-approved veteran with experience going against The King under the magnifying glass of playoff matchups, but it’s unclear where exactly he’ll fit in in the team’s rotation.
The Lakers will presumably not play James all of his minutes at power forward and center, meaning that he will play a bit of small forward even if he doesn’t start there. Either behind him or next to him in the starting lineup on the wing will be Brandon Ingram, who is worthy of significant minutes on his own, which wouldn’t seem to leave a lot of burn for Stephenson
At shooting guard, most of the minutes would seem primed to go to Josh Hart and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, with a little bit of Lonzo Ball or Rajon Rondo sprinkled in if they play together, and maybe even some sweet-shooting Svi Mykahiliuk.
But even with all of those roles seemingly accounted for, the Lakers didn’t run Stephenson past James OR pay him $4.5 million to get DNP-CDs, so it seems he’ll fit into the rotation somewhere, it’s just not clear where or at whose expense.
The most likely candidate to get squeezed would be Hart, which seems shortsighted not just because of how young he is, but also how ready Hart is for competitive basketball and how many skills he has that the Lakers sorely need, mainly his defense and 3-point shooting.
Stephenson, a career 30.3 percent 3-point shooter who hasn’t posted a positive DBPM (defensive box plus-minus) since he played for the Clippers, wouldn’t seem to provide either of those things. Now, the Lakers have argued they value his playmaking and toughness more than any lack of shooting, and maybe he re-finds some of his defensive utility while playing a more limited minutes.
If Stephenson can’t rediscover his defensive tenacity, though, this signing will look even more perplexing than it already does, even if the real answer to the question of why the Lakers signed him is ultimately that Stephenson was willing to take a one-year deal to help the team preserve cap space for next summer.
All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.