The Los Angeles Lakers top priority this summer is to sign a Tier One free agent, most notably Carmelo Anthony and/or LeBron James. They will continue to wait patiently on the decision of those two, as will the rest of the NBA.
However, if those dominos don’t fall in the direction of the Lakers, the team will not wait long to pounce on other players who are interested in coming to play at Staples Center on short term deals. One of the players at the top of the Lakers list is Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson.
Stephenson, 23, recently turned down a 5-year, $44M deal to stay in Indiana. On the surface that move seems to be a bit perplexing consider that Stephenson wasn’t even a starter until last year. However, during the 2013-14 season Stephenson turned into one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA and became Indiana’s second or third best offensive weapon. In essence, he turned into Ron Artest. Unfortunately, Stephenson also possesses some of the negatives Artest possessed also.
According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, Stephenson believes he’ll be an All-Star next season and is worth well above the $7.6 million the Pacers’ offer would pay him for the 2014-15 season. His representatives will likely be searching for an annual salary beginning at north of $10M per season. Would the Lakers be crazy to offer Stephenson a deal for 2-years and $20M?
Lance Stephenson is a unique player but he needs to be in the right system that maximize his defense and rebounding. He also needs to be on a team with a strong leader who won’t stand for his character flaws. There is no doubt that a team led by Kobe Bryant won’t stand for his antics and Kobe has proved he can deal with volatile personalities before. In the past Kobe has managed to get the best out of serial head cases like Artest, Lamar Odom, and to a lesser extent Matt Barnes.
The question really becomes is Stephenson worth $10M per year and would he be a good fit with the Lakers? There is little doubt that Stephenson is a young and talented player. He led the NBA in triple-doubles last season with five and also led NBA guards with 7.2 rebounds per game. He was also playing on a team, the Pacers, which limited him offensively. Could he become a guard, or even a small forward, who averages 15 points and 8 rebounds a game on the right team? Of course he can. He’s also an outstanding defender and is one of the players who has at least held LeBron James in check for parts of a playoff series.
Stephenson is said to be intrigued by the possibility of joining Kobe in Los Angeles and would like to be in a system that allows for a little bit more creativity. He is also being pursued heavily by the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks, who likely will strike out with Anthony, are said to be pursuing a slew of free agents such as Detroit’s Greg Monroe and Houston’s Chandler Parsons. The Lakers are likewise interested in signing Parsons should Anthony choose to play elsewhere next season.
If the Lakers fail to sign Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James we may see Lance Stephenson in a Lakers uniform next season. Of course, everything about the NBA offseason depends on the fates of Anthony and James. We won’t know anything until those two make a final decision on where they will be playing next year.