In the words of Mase, “Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.”
The Los Angeles Lakers held a reunion on Monday when they agreed to terms with free agents Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, and Kent Bazemore. All four players are former Lakers, joining the team for their second stint, and in Howard’s case, his third stint in the purple and gold.
The moves were the first since the 17-time NBA Champion Lakers announced that they had acquired Russell Westbrook in a trade with the Washington Wizards for forwards Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma, guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the 22nd overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft (Isaiah Jackson). The Lakers don’t have much cap space to sign free agents, but are certainly making the most of the first day teams are allowed to negotiate with players for the upcoming 2021-22 NBA season. NBA teams can’t officially sign free agents until August 6, at 12:01 PM EST.
However, not all the news was good for the Lake Show on Monday. Fan favorite Alex Caruso, affectionally known as the “Bald Eagle” or the “Bald Mamba,” now becomes an “ex-Laker” after reportedly agreeing to a four-year, $37 million contract with the Chicago Bulls for the full mid-level exception.
Also, another famous Lakers, point guard and former No. 2 overall draft pick Lonzo Ball has agreed to a sign-and-trade to join the Bulls after a two-year stint with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Fans will most likely be discouraged that Caruso is headed to the Windy City, but excited about the return of Howard. The 35-year-old center was an integral part of the team’s championship run two seasons ago inside the bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Howard took over at center in the 2020 Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, playing tenacious defense on reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic.
Meanwhile, Ariza, 36, has a championship ring of his own with the Lakers, winning the title in 2009 with Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant and future HOF center Pau Gasol.
The Lakers have been interested in a reunion with Ariza for the last few seasons, but he was always traded to another team. Current Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, was Ariza’s former sports agent before he moved to the team’s front office.
Ellington, 33, never won a title with the Lakers, but he did play for the franchise during the 2014-15 season. He’s known as a great three-point shooter, averaging 9.6 points with the Detroit Pistons last season on 42.2 shooting percentage from the three-point arc.
Bazemore, 32, was traded to the Lakers at the deadline during the 2014 season, but his run with the purple and gold was cut short after he tore a tendon in his right foot in early April. The following season he signed with the Atlanta Hawks as a free agent.
All four players agreed to join the Lakers on one-year, veterans minimum contracts.
The moves are the franchise’s first attempt to solidify the roster around superstars LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Westbrook. Prior to Monday, the only other player still on the active roster was center Marc Gasol.
The Lakers are also reportedly interested in re-signing forward Talen Horton-Tucker. The team made him a qualifying offer last month, and retain his early Bird rights. That means if another team were to offer him a contract, the Lakers would have the opportunity to match it.
In addition to Horton-Tucker, look for the Lakers to try and retain some free agents of their own from the 2021 season. Wesley Matthews, Alfonso McKinnie, and Jared Dudley are all likely options to return to the team.
Today’s moves has the Lakers roster up to eight players, meaning expect the team to make more moves in the coming days.