The man who once blew in LeBron James’s ear during a playoff game is now his running mate. The Lakers came to terms with Lance Stephenson—yes, Lance Stephenson—on a one-year deal Sunday night, just hours after securing James. Stephenson played in 82 games for the Pacers last season, averaging 9.2 points in 22.6 minutes per game. Lance’s career peaked during his first stint with Indy, when he became widely known for his role as chief LeBron irritant with the Pacers. Indy declined a team option on Lance at the outset of free agency. His deal with the Lakers is reportedly for $4.5 million.
And if adding Lance wasn’t zany enough, Los Angeles also reportedly added JaVale McGee on Sunday. The two-time NBA champion comes over from the Warriors on a one-year deal for the veteran minimum. While this is not quite what most people expected when they assumed LeBron would put together a superteam in L.A., the Lakers are at the very least going to be the most interesting team in the NBA next season. Let’s grade the Stephenson and McGee deals.
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Okay, let’s appreciate that Lance and LeBron are teammates for one last moment before discussing the basketball fit. This is... an interesting move by the Lakers. Stephenson’s lack of outside shooting touch (30.3% career from three) doesn’t make him a great complement to James. It’s a little unclear right now who will be on L.A.’s roster if they do swing a trade for Kawhi Leonard, but Stephenson likely won’t be closing games alongside Bron.
Lance ultimately makes the most sense as a ball-handler and creator off the bench. He’s not quite Jamal Crawford in his prime, but Stephenson’s ability off the bounce makes him a valuable scorer when your team’s stars need a break. If the Lakers coveted shooting, swingmen like James Ennis or Glenn Robinson III (who signed with Detroit) probably would have made more sense. Also of note, despite his, uh, intensity, the Pacers were significantly better defensively with Stephenson on the bench last season. (Indy was much better overall with Lance sitting.)
A one-year deal is ultimately a low-risk proposition for the Lakers. L.A. is still star hunting, and moves like this one on the margin will matter. But the Lakers still have flexibility moving forward, and as long as LeBron and Lance play nice, Stephenson should provide some value.
This signing probably makes a little more sense than the Stephenson one. McGee proved in Golden State he could be a serviceable backup big, and even start in spot moments. It certainly helped that JaVale was surrounded by generational talent on the Warriors, but he filled his role well, and it’s a role that can translate to another contender. McGee simply needs to roll hard to the rim on offense and block shots on defense. If he does that, he can have a similar impact in L.A. as he did in Golden State.
The process may not be as pretty, but McGee is perfectly capable of soaking up some minutes as a third or fourth player in the frontcourt. And as a one-year deal on the minimum, the contract is practically as small a gamble as possible for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. The key for the Lakers will be to make sure they keep both expectations and minutes low.