Yesterday at 4:49PM local time Shams Charania of The Vertical reported that the New Orleans Pelicans have agreed to terms with free agent guard Lance Stephenson. That report was quickly followed by confirmation from both Scott Kushner at the New Orleans Advocate and Marc Stein at ESPN.
It is clear from the timing of this release that the organization was doing its best to bury the news. Nothing could possibly send a more clear message than the late Friday release; traditionally a time when bad news is released by politicians and governments across all partisan backgrounds.
The deal is likely a training camp deal with some trivial amount guaranteed to get Stephenson to sign on the dotted line. It sends a clear message that this franchise is not completely confident in their back court rotation. That rotation lacks necessary depth thanks to the expected absences of both Jrue Holiday due to his wife Lauren’s impending surgery to remove a brain tumor and lingering injury concerns for Tyreke Evans. Alvin Gentry said on Zach Lowe’s Lowe Post podcast that the Pelicans do not expect Evans to be ready to go on opening night.
Lance Stephenson the basketball player is actually pretty good. He’s capable of playing both ends of the floor and willing to accept the challenge of defending the opposition’s best player. In his last four seasons as a rotation player he’s averaged 9.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in 27.9 minutes per game while shooting 45.6% from the floor and 31.9% behind the arc. He has a tendency to dominate possession and force bad looks late in the shot clock, an act too familiar to Pelican fans used to rooting for Tyreke Evans. It’s possible to make a case that Lance Stephenson is the best basketball player the Pelicans have acquired since adding Holiday and Evans in 2013.
Of course, there’s also Lance Stephenson the head case. Blowing in LeBron’s ear, a fist fight at practice with Evan Turner, and the woefully under-reported domestic violence arrest for allegedly pushing his girlfriend down the stairs in 2010. No charges were filed and Stephenson was not punished in any way by the league for the incident. That’s an interesting history of behavior after the team sought out “high character” guys all summer.
Stephenson is not guaranteed a spot on the roster, as the Pelicans currently have 15 contracts on the books for the season in addition to training camp deals for Chris Copeland, Robert Sacre, and Shawn Dawson. A transaction of some sort, such as waiving one of the 15 players under guaranteed contract or an unbalanced trade, is necessary to create a spot for New Orleans to keep Stephenson around.
There are legitimate concerns on how Stephenson might fit into the Pelicans locker room. However, with both Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans out for the beginning of the season Stephenson could be the second best player on the roster behind Anthony Davis.
Feels like this might be a long season, huh?