It’s been fewer than 10 months since we last saw Lance Stephenson in the NBA, when he played with the Lakers to wrap up the season in April 2019.
Unable to land a job on last year’s free-agent market, Stephenson went to China for this season on a one-year, $4 million deal and averaged 26.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 29 games, shooting 52.2 percent from the field according to Proballers.com.
Perhaps we could see Stephenson again. According to Yahoo! Sports, Stephenson is hoping to find his way back into the league as a free agent, willing to join a team for the stretch run and the playoffs. Because he is unsigned by an NBA team, Stephenson can sign at any point between now and the end of the season and be eligible for the postseason.
According to Yahoo’s Chris Haynes, Stephenson would be willing to work out for NBA teams to show he is ready to contribute as a role player.
Stephenson ‘Misunderstood’ Outside Indiana
Stephenson spent nine seasons in the NBA, averaging 8.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He made his reputation on the defensive end but did have some especially productive offensive spurts—particularly in 2013-14 with the Pacers, when he averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists for an Indiana team that won 56 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals.
His coach in Indiana that year was current Lakers coach Frank Vogel. Former Lakers guard and Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw, then an assistant with Vogel and the Pacers, was a key influence on the often-erratic Stephenson at that time. Shaw labeled Stephenson as, “misunderstood.”
Stephenson’s career hit the skids immediately after that season, though, when he signed a three-year free-agent deal with Charlotte and left the calming influence of Shaw. He played 61 games in Charlotte, averaging 8.2 points and 37.6 percent shooting (17.1 percent from the 3-point line) before the team dumped him to the Clippers the following summer.
Lance Stephenson Mended Fences with LeBron James
After mostly meandering through the NBA from 2014-18, during which time he played not only for Charlotte and the Clippers but also for the Grizzlies, Timberwolves and back to the Pacers, Stephenson finally landed with the Lakers last season.
That, he admitted, shocked him. During his time with the Pacers, he earned a reputation as a player who could use everything from the dumb to the sublime to get under the skin of star LeBron James, whether the Pacers were facing James as a member of the Heat or during his time with the Cavaliers.
Most famously, Stephenson blew into the ear of James during the 2014 postseason, drawing a fused and bemused reaction from James.
Stephenson later explained: “I was really trying to get him mad. Really trying to win the game, trying to get him like unfocused. I was trying anything. For you to do something to somebody and they don’t respond, they keep continuing and playing hard and it’s like, ‘Yo, how do I get in this [guy’s head].’ I was just trying to find stuff.”
Still, once the Lakers signed James in free agency in 2018, James pushed them to pursue Stephenson, who signed a one-year, $4.4 million with the Lakers that summer.
Stephenson could use that kind of backer now. The buyout market has gotten flooded with players trying to fill too-few available roster spots. The Lakers, for one, just signed Pistons castoff Markieff Morris. It’ll be tough for Stephenson to find similar luck.