As we continue to move through the off-season, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves another day closer to the start of training camp – yet their rebuilding job seems far from complete.
Following a strong start to the summer, Los Angeles has somewhat changed course, turning their attentions onto a new superstar addition in the form of the Brooklyn Nets‘ Kyrie Irving. Until that trade is either ruled out or becomes a done deal, it’s unlikely we will see the Lakers front office turn their attention back to the bench rotation.
However, with so many talented veterans currently available on the free-agent market, it makes sense for Rob Pelinka and the front office to get their primary business done first – especially if it means reuniting LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Yet, according to Sports Illustrated’s Ben Stinar, LeBron and Irving shouldn’t be the only reunion to happen in Lakerland, as he proposes signing former wing Lance Stephenson via free agency, in a bid to improve the Lakers bench.
“He played for the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks last season, but prior to that he last played in the NBA in 2019 for the Los Angeles Lakers…While there is not a lot of upside in terms of potential, he can bring loads of experience and solid play off the bench. The season starts in a little over two months, so they could bring him in for training camp, and see how he looks before the season actually begins. If he isn’t a good fit, they could simply waive him,” Stinar wrote on August 13.
Stephenson, 31, might not be the stellar acquisition Lakers fans are hoping for, but his ability to play as a point guard, shooting guard and small forward would allow new head coach Darvin Ham to get creative with his rotations. Furthermore, throughout his 46 regular-season games last season, Stephenson proved he was still capable of making an impact at the NBA level, averaging 8.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game while shooting 45.5% from the field and 30% from deep.
Lakers Could Still Trade Russell Westbrook
Regardless of what happens with Kyrie Irving in the coming weeks, the Lakers will likely continue to shop Westbrook around the league, as they look to remove him from their roster following a disappointing debut season in purple and gold.
Thus far, Los Angeles has struggled to locate an interested trade partner for the superstar guard, unless the front office is willing to attach future draft assets to sweeten the deal – something which has been deemed off-limits in recent weeks.
However, according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers continue to believe they have options when it comes to trading away their star point guard – despite what is being reported in the media.
“Lakers sources insist they have options beyond the ones that have been reported (Irving, Buddy Hield, Myles Turner, and others). Time should better reveal those once the bigger moves get made,” Woike wrote on August 12.
Analyst Urges Lakers to Cut Ties With Westbrook
When speaking on an August 5 episode of Fox Sports ‘Undisputed’, NBA analyst Skip Bayless implored the Lakers to take a bold stance on Westbrook’s future – even if it means buying out the final year of his current contract.
“Russ (Westbrook) was such a disaster, I fear that you’re completely and utterly stuck with him. I don’t see any scenario where Jeanie Buss is going to rubber stamp a bunch of draft picks to get him out of here. The best way out of this is to pay him his $47 million and send him home. Just do addition by subtraction.
That would be the very best thing she could do for the basketball team – because then you protect all your future picks, and you allow LeBron to figure it out without Westbrook in the equation. You just say ‘Ok, we screwed up, but we swallow our pride, swallow $47 million, and Russ, we don’t need ya,’ have fun,” Bayless said.
Regardless of what happens with Westbrook this off-season, the Lakers still need to ensure their bench unit has improved from last season, and that the roster is capable of contending for an NBA championship. While Stephenson doesn’t do much to move the needle on his own, his versatility and combative style of play could help the Lakers become a more competitive roster as we continue to move closer to the 2022-23 season.