Lance Stephenson agrees to one-year, $4M deal with Liaoning Flying Leopards of Chinese Basketball Association, per report
Lance Stephenson is leaving the NBA to play in China
Lance Stephenson will sign a one-year, $4 million deal with the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. The move represents an opportunity for Stephenson to reclaim some of the playing time and stature that he has lost in recent years.
Stephenson played 35.3 minutes per game with the Indiana Pacers during the 2013-14 season but struggled significantly after leaving for the Charlotte Hornets in free agency. He bounced around the league after that, playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Pacers again before landing a one-year, $4.4 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers last offseason.
His performance there was uneven. While a few big games and his air guitar celebrations made him a fan-favorite, his turnovers were damaging to a team that needed stability from its bench lineups and his shot selection was often frustrating with so many other mouths to feed on the offensive end. Stephenson is firmly a bench player at this point in his NBA career, but in China, he will likely be the best player on his team. For someone who enjoys having the ball in his hands as much as Stephenson does, that is an enticing proposition.
Of course, there are drawbacks to playing in China. The CBA is welcoming to foreign players but still places a heavy emphasis on promoting their own. Teams are only allowed to have two foreign players on the roster, unless they finished in the bottom five of the standings in the prior season (which the Flying Leopards did not), so Stephenson will be joined only by former Boston Celtics big man Brandon Bass among former American-born NBA players. Those players are also allowed to play only six combined quarters per game.
Those restrictions can make it difficult for American players to showcase themselves in China, but plenty have enjoyed enough success doing so where they are able to return to the NBA. J.R. Smith played in China during the 2011 lockout and landed with the New York Knicks after that. Jimmer Fredette went to China when it became apparent that his NBA career was likely over, but he played so well there that he was given another chance by the Phoenix Suns last year.
That is what Stephenson is likely hoping to do. Interest in his services among NBA teams seemed to be limited this offseason, so he took a lucrative overseas offer to try to reestablish his value. It is certainly a gamble, but any player with his talent has a chance to make it pay off.
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