There were a few people that were puzzled when Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers followed up their successful recruitment of LeBron James by adding players like Lance Stephenson, but it seems like — as some suspected — those types of players may have all been part of a grander plan.
Teams don’t get to just sign James without consulting him on roster decisions — that’s just life with the King. And while some people on the internet might not have wanted Stephenson’s addition, one far more important person did: LeBron himself.
But while it was originally reported that LeBron himself might have been the one recruiting Stephenson, Stephenson clarified how things actually went down with Dana Benbow of the IndyStar:
There has been a bit of a misunderstanding, Stephenson said, on how the whole Lakers request came about. James didn’t personally call him after signing his four-year, $154 million contract with the Lakers over the offseason.
“Magic (Johnson) called me and he told me LeBron was interested, very interested in me,” Stephenson said. “As a teammate.”
It’s not totally clear why Stephenson felt the need to clarify there, although I guess at least now we know that James isn’t just some Lance Stephenson aficionado who is interested in him in general.
Instead, Stephenson himself thinks James has a specific idea in mind for his role:
He expects all the taunting he did to James through the years – the blowing in the ear, the heckling to draw technical fouls, the bursting into the other team’s huddle – he expects James to ask him to turn that on the Lakers’ opponents.
“Yeah, he’s probably going to sic me on people,” Stephenson said. “It’ll be fun. It will be a very interesting year, just playing with him and winning games with him.”
This was always the main reason it made sense for James to want Stephenson. James has gone up against the Warriors the last four years in the NBA Finals, and knows that no one has a chance against such a juggernaut if they can’t muck the game up a little bit. As Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka put it, “to try and play the Warriors at their own game is a trap. No one is going to beat them at their own game.”
Instead, the Lakers are going to try and beat them with playmaking and grit, and Stephenson helps on both fronts. He’s a phenomenal passer, and while his defensive abilities might be overstated at this phase of his career, he can certainly bring tenacity and irritation on the defensive end.
James knows this better than anyone after going up against Stephenson in the playoffs (most famously when Stephenson blew in his ear). If James wants Stephenson, it’s probably because he remembers moments like that and wants that on his side, wants to be able to send Stephenson out to see if he can get Draymond Green to pick up a stupid technical, irritate Kevin Durant or throw Stephen Curry off of his game.
It might not work, but at least Stephenson has made it so we don’t have to guess anymore. We know what the plan is, and now we just wait to watch how it goes.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.