AP Photo/Darron Cummings
Ohm Youngmisuk ESPN Staff Writer
LAS VEGAS —After all the antics and the rivalry he had with LeBron James, Lance Stephenson finds it “actually funny” that the two former foes are now teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Uh, it was actually funny that I am actually on the same team,” Stephenson said in a conference call on Tuesday. “I am very excited to see what that brings and just playing with him, one of the best players to play the game, is going to be amazing. I can’t wait to get on board.”
The Lakers officially announced their signing of Stephenson, who once famously blew into James’ ear in an attempt to do anything to throw James off his game. After battling each other in the Eastern Conference for several years, mostly when Stephenson was with the Indiana Pacers, Stephenson said James’ side reached out to his agent this offseason about the idea of teaming up together.
“I was actually surprised he made the move to L.A.,” Stephenson said of James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Lakers. “I guess he needed a new look. I feel like just him reaching out and showing that he liked what I bring to the game is amazing. I just can’t wait to be on the floor with him, actually get on the court with him.”
The Lakers signed James, Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to go with a young core that includes Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.
Stephenson says the Lakers want him to bring his defensive edge, be a veteran leader and just be himself. The guard, who averaged 9.2 points and 2.9 assists last season, isn’t worried about the Lakers having a plethora of ball handlers and playmakers despite the fact that many around the league wonder how it will all mesh.
“It is going to give us a great advantage,” Stephenson said. “We have a lot of unselfish guys and winning guys and even the young guys you can see they are the same way… we have a lot of potential and different ways we can win games and I feel like we are definitely going to show that this season.”
“I actually talked to [head coach] Luke [Walton] and he basically told me he wanted me to be myself, bring that defensive edge, be a leader on and off the court for the young guys and just bring that focus of winning and coming to compete every night,” Stephenson added. “But the one that stands out the most is letting me play and let me be myself, and when you got a coach telling you that stuff, it is just amazing.”
“Yeah, it’s definitely possible, but it’s not going to be easy,” McGee said when asked about posing a threat to beat the Warriors. “Obviously they have five All-Stars now, four immediately. But it’s definitely going to be defense over anything. Going into playing the Warriors you’ve got to be extremely focused just because the Warriors like to play off of every single mistake that you make, especially turnovers, so keeping the turnovers down and playing great defense will definitely enhance our chances of beating the Warriors.”
“I think all the pieces are going to fit perfect,” McGee added of the Lakers’ defensive additions. “We all definitely have great defensive minds. Rondo is great with the steals, also on offense with the passing and court vision. Lance, he’s pretty good at defense also. Bringing me into the bunch as a rim defender and a big who can switch is just an amazing process and I really give kudos to the front office.”