Of all the Los Angeles Lakers’ free agent signings this summer, none of them were more strange than the decision to bring Lance Stephenson on board. Beyond the fact that his best asset is his ability to annoy the living hell out of LeBron James, his game is a weird fit alongside the best basketball player in the world because he’s not much of a threat to do all that much on offense.
The Lakers have been adamant that James has signed off on every move they’ve made this summer, though, and on Wednesday, general manager Rob Pelinka laid out the logic behind bringing Stephenson on board. Basically, Pelinka wants Stephenson to fill a role made famous by Dennis Rodman or Metta World Peace: Be the annoying guy who plays defense and rebounds.
Rodman is the best non-center rebounder in basketball history, and his ability to guard anyone on defense made him an invaluable asset. World Peace is also on the short list of the best defenders to ever live, as he was willing and able to absolutely bully anyone he wanted on that end of the floor.
Stephenson, meanwhile, is considered a good defender because he would get under James’ skin while he was on the Pacers, even though James would usually have big games against Indiana whenever they’d square off. Take this past postseason for example — while Stephenson and the Pacers pushed James and the Cavaliers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, James went for 34.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists on 54.1 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent shooting from three.
Even further, last season, the Pacers saw their defensive rating go down by 6.6 points when Stephenson was on the floor. He has been a stout defender in the past, sure, but comparing him to players like Rodman and World Peace at this point in his career is almost certainly wishful thinking that a player that no longer exists (and, really, never existed on the level of those two) will show up in Los Angeles.
Perhaps now that he will be on a team where he can focus solely on the defensive end of the floor as opposed to having to do much of anything on offense, Stephenson can show the glimpses of ability on the defensive end that he’s shown throughout his career. What is far more likely is that Stephenson — who has never been much of an impact player outside of Indiana — has his up and downs, mixing the occasional stout defense with excruciating lapses on that end.