Lance Stephenson cannot but be used to rejection by now. Heading into the 2018 offseason, he had already suited up for seven franchises over eight years; underscoring the extent of his journeyman status, he had, for instance, three addresses for his 2015-2016 campaign, and another four the next. Considering his history of moving, it was hardly any surprise to see him departing after a second stint with the Pacers. He was job hunting once again, and he expressed confidence he would be sporting new colors soon. After all, his problem wasn’t getting new digs; it was staying there.
True enough, free agent lasted all of one day for Stephenson before he got a call. For all his eccentricities, he can flat-out play; not for nothing was he formerly Mr. New York Basketball, a certified McDonald’s All-American, and Rookie of the Year in the Big East before jumping to the pros. The surprise wasn’t that he latched on to work fast. It was that he did so with the Lakers, who had just bagged the catch of a lifetime in LeBron James, by all appearances not quite a fan of his.
To say Stephenson and James have had a contentious shared history would be to grossly overstate the former’s significance as a foil to the latter. Nonetheless, their brushes on the court are nothing if not remarkable; one is a decided pest — from brandishing a choke sign to blowing in an ear to touching the mouth to faking a kiss — in the other’s march to greatness. That he would then garner an invite to the Lakers is a moderate surprise. That the invite would come from the target of his antics is a genuine shocker.
Even Stephenson himself is aware of the seeming incongruity. In a conference call yesterday, he described the development as “funny.” And as if to highlight that he had yet to fully grasp the situation, he used “actually” twice in one rambling sentence that included mixed tenses. Naturally, he couldn’t help but indicate that he was wooed by, in his words, “one of the best players to play the game… Him reaching out and showing that he liked what I bring to the game is amazing.” Well, maybe not all; James can certainly do without the tomfoolery.
At this point, it’s anybody’s guess how much help Stephenson can give the Lakers. His contract is a modest $4.5 million that runs through the 2018-2019 season, and among his roles, based on what he said head coach Luke Walton told him, is to “be myself.” Needless to say, fans are hoping he means “be my best self” as opposed to “be the best of myself.”
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.