Lance Stephenson, who once blew in the left ear of LeBron James trying to disrupt the NBA superstar, signed a new contract Tuesday to join James on the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 27-year-old American guard played for Indiana the past two seasons, each campaign ending with a first-round playoff loss to James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Stephenson has a history with James, including a choke sign to Miami’s bench after James missed a late free throw in a lopsided Indiana playoff win in 2012, trash talk and the ear-blow incident when Miami met Indiana in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals and striking James in the groin when the star drove to the hoop in a game last November.
“It’s actually funny that I’m actually on the same team as him. I’m very excited to see what that brings,” Stephenson said. “It’s going to be amazing.”
The deal, reportedly for one year at $4.5 million, unites Stephenson with fellow Lakers free agent signings James, 2008 champion with Boston and four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
In eight career NBA seaons, five of them with Indiana, Stephenson has averaged 8.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists a game. After four seasons with Indiana, he played for Charlotte, the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis, New Orleans and Minnesota before rejoining the Pacers just ahead of the 2017 playoffs.
“It’s incredibly exciting to have Lance join our team,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said. “Lance is playoff-tested and will bring a certain edge, confidence and toughness to our roster.
“His multi-positional versatility and open-court playmaking abilities are key ingredients for the basketball style we designed for next season.”
The Lakers have missed the playoffs for the past five seasons and haven’t gone past the second round of the playoffs since winning the 2010 NBA crown.
James has played in all eight NBA Finals since then, going 2-2 with Miami from 2011-2014 and 1-3 with Cleveland from 2015 to last month, when the Golden State Warriors swept the Cavaliers for their third title in four seasons.
James agreed to a three-year deal worth $154 million on July 1 and signed the contract on Monday.
The Lakers have spent much of the money they had available but have room to make an offer to forward Carmelo Anthony, who is expected to have Oklahoma City buy out his contract next week to make him a free agent.