The Lakers lack an identity. Jerry Buss brought in Mike D’Antoni in hopes of bringing back Showtime, but it failed. Mike Brown never gave the Lakers any sort of identity, aside from a floundering group of veterans who flamed out of the playoffs. Not since Phil Jackson‘s title winning teams in 2009 and 2010 did the Lakers possess a true identity.
And in Los Angeles when discussing the Lakers, four years removed is an eternity.
Only Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol stayed with the Lakers since 2010 (with Jordan Farmar leaving in 2010 and returning this summer). Four years ago, Phil Jackson was a coach for the Lakers instead of a front office mogul across the country in New York. Four years ago, the Lakers were on top of the world for a second straight season, now reduced to praying for the ping pong balls to bounce their way in the draft lottery.
And in four years, the Lakers have entirely lost their identity.
At first glance, his stat line is unassuming. 13.8 points a game would have ranked fourth on this season’s underwhelming Lakers team. But a deeper dive starts to unwrap what makes him so desirable. His 35 minutes per game is a big plus. His 7.2 rebounds a night despite being just 6’5 show his grit and toughness. His nearly 5 assists a night as a shooting guard show his vision. The culmination of everything, including his age, shows why general managers are ready to offer up big money for him. Making just over $900,000 this year, he’s due for a massive pay raise, and he’ll be thrust into the spotlight this offseason.
But Lance Stephenson was Born Ready for this.
His nickname is one of the most appropriate in the league: Born Ready. After being considered the weakest link in the Pacers formidable starting five, Stephenson had a coming out party in the playoffs last year before exploding onto the scene this year. From mid-December through the end of February, he was the Pacers everything, averaging 15.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and shooting 52% from the field in that stretch.
And then he shrunk into the background, much like the Pacers themselves. Likely costing himself millions upon millions of dollars, Stephenson has mirrored the struggles of the blue and gold. As Stephenson goes, so do the Pacers. In the 13 games Stephenson had 20-points this year, the Pacers were 9-4. In the 19 games he had a double-double, they were 14-5. And in the five games he had a triple double, they were 4-1.
You see, Stephenson’s game can’t be measured in box scores and analytics. You have to watch him play to truly understand what makes him special. He has a flair for the dramatics. The mantra “go big or go home” perfectly suits his play style. When a simple pass will suffice, Stephenson adds a little spice to it. When a basic layup will do, Stephenson will extend for a highlight dunk. And when the crowd is on their feet, ready to explode at the next made basket, he always finds a way to provide it.
He loves the bright lights. He loves being the center of attention. No, he yearns for the spotlight, the center of attention.
He was born for Hollywood.
The Lakers need Lance Stephenson as much as he needs them. He brings not only an identity that they lack, but a certain amount of swagger. The Lakers have been knocked off their high horse, have been kicked around, and are facing a long road to the top. Suddenly, the questions arise of just how desirable a franchise are the LA Lakers. Instead of fighting for pride this season, they were too often sent packing with their tail between their legs.
To his credit, Swaggy P brought a small dose of just that to the Lakers this season, and the moments shown bright in the otherwise dark season. His signature three-fingered salute after sinking a three-pointer was too often a garbage time consolation prize as opposed to a clutch basket.
Stephenson will bring the swagger with him. But he’ll also bring a youthful energy and willingness that the Lakers desperately need. Stephenson certainly won’t solve all of LA’s problems. There’s too many to count from last season. But the Lakers need to prepare for the future, and what better way to do so than bringing in a young mind for Kobe Bryant to mold. Stephenson under the tutelage of the Black Mamba should make opposing NBA fans worried.
By bringing in Stephenson, the Lakers will bring a little Showtime, a little bit of toughness, and a little bit of swagger. Pair him with Bryant, a new draft pick, and a batch of free agents and former players and the Lakers would be one-step closer to a new identity.