How five former Lakers found their way back to Los Angeles

Rajon Rondo dismisses fears that the Lakers won't be able to compete for the NBA championship next year. (0:51).
Rondo jokes that he's excited about being one of the "young guys" on the Lakers (0.51).

They all left the Lakers. All five of them returned to Los Angeles. One of them is back for the second time. One took a decade to return. Three of them were champions for the franchise. All three of them were champions with the franchise. Rob Pelinka, Lakers vice president for basketball operations and general manger, took the phrase "once a Laker is always a Laker” to heart this offseason by using mostly Lakers alumni to fill the roster around his revamped Big Three.

The veteran minimum contracts were signed by all five players, so it is possible to say that the returnees will get what they pay for. The Lakers' chances of winning the championship could hinge on their ability to produce these players in the playoffs as much as the guys who signed max contracts.

Here's a list of the prodigal sons of purple and gold.

Dwight Howard, center, is back with the Los Angeles Lakers for his third stint. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

- Tenure with Lakers 2012-13, 2019-20

Averages with Lakers: 12.5 Points, 10.0 Rebounds and 1.8 Blocks in 145 Games

What was the result of the first (and second!) time?

Howard's first stint as a team member was not easy, but his second stint with the team more than compensated. In 2012, Howard was 27 years old and was expected to become the next great center in the Lakers long line of legendary big men. After a season of infighting between Kobe Bryant, then-head coach Mike D'Antoni and physical setbacks due to back surgery and a torn Labrum in his shoulder, Howard fled for Houston, despite Lakers' desperate billboard campaign trying to keep him. He returned to Houston in 2019, with a much smaller skill set, which fit perfectly into Frank Vogel’s defense-first approach. His greatest achievement? His greatest achievement? Neutralizing Denver's Nikola Jokic through his physical play during the 2020 Western Conference finals. This was in addition to his already Hall of Fame-worthy resume with his first NBA championship.

Howard left for what?

Nobody is certain. Howard could be impatient. It could be poor communication from the Lakers. Howard returned to the Lakers in '19 on a non-guaranteed contract. He stated that he would prefer to make his way onto the roster. Both sides expressed mutual interest in Howard's return after he filled his role with grace and skill. Howard didn't receive a formal offer from the Lakers, or he was drafted away by Philly's Joel Embiid. Howard spent the last season with Philadelphia.

Howard is back!

"What brought you back to the Lakers?" Howard repeated the question at his (re)introductory news conference last year, and Howard agreed. "Love for the city, love of the team, love for the game and the chance to win, you know?" It's that simple.

What the Lakers expect of him in 2021-22

Howard will once again be Davis' bodyguard and provide a crucial defensive presence. Howard was also missed last season by JaVale McGee in the Lakers' big-man rotation, which featured Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol.

Rajon Rondo will be returning to the Lakers this season after last season spent with the Atlanta Hawks, and the LA Clippers. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Tenure with Lakers 2018-20

Averages with the Lakers: 8.1, 4.5 rebounds, and 6.1 assists in 95 games

What was the first time?

Rondo arrived in Los Angeles in 2018 with LeBron James. After missing the playoffs, he and James were paired up as the Lakers' primary players on the way to the Orlando bubble championship. Although his first round was marred with injuries, including breaking his thumb in practice after the league restarted in 2020, Rondo was still a star on the Lakers' way to the title. He averaged 8.9 points and 6.6 assist per game while shooting 40% from 3.

Why did Rondo leave?

He got paid. The Atlanta Hawks offered him a $15 million, two-year deal to be a veteran leader to the team after the championship. Los Angeles, already exceeding the cap, signed Harrell. Rondo could only be offered a minimum veteran deal.

Rondo is back!

Rondo stated that "we didn't get our march," after clearing waivers and rejoining team. "I clearly want a parade here.A." Unfortunately, the Larry O'Brien Trophy won't be presented to the 2020 NBA champions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rondo was able to sign a contract with the Lakers after he reached a buyout with Memphis due to his prior relationships and experience.

What the Lakers expect of him in 2021-22

Rondo will coach from the floor and also on the bench, taking over the ballhandling duties with Talen Horton Tuckerer and Kendrick Nunn when Russell Westbrook isn't there.

Trevor Ariza was last seen playing for the Lakers in 2009. AP Photo/David J. Phillip

- Tenure with Lakers 2007-09

Averages with Lakers: 8.3 Points, 4.1 Rebounds and 1.5 Steals in 106 Games

What was the first time?

Ariza was only 22 years old when his first Lakers team was formed in 2007. He played in all 82 games in his second season, and then stole the momentum of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals by two game-sealing swipes. Bryant and Ariza were great partners, providing the Lakers with two solid defenders who could convert steals or deflections into fast break opportunities.

Why did Ariza leave?

The Lakers used their 2009 offseason cap space to sign Ron Artest. Ariza signed a $53 million, five-year deal with the Houston Rockets team Artest had just left. Los Angeles won again as champions while Ariza had a solid 3-and-2 career with the Rockets. Hornets. Wizards. Suns. Kings. Blazers. Heat.

Why is Ariza back in the picture?

Ariza recalled that Russ was traded and that he was on his phone within 20 minutes. Ariza has been on the Lakers' radar several times in recent years. The interest was mutual.

What the Lakers expect of him in 2021-22

Defense and shooting are crucial for a team with very few of them. The Lakers will need to manage his workload at 36. However, the 17-year old veteran is coming off a season in which he averaged 9.4 and 4.8 rebounds per games and shot 35% from three in 28 minutes.

Kent Bazemore was a Lakers player for one season in 2013-14. Gary Dineen/Getty Images

- 2013-14 Tenure with Lakers

Averages with Lakers: 13.1 Points, 3.3 Rebounds and 3.1 Assists in 23 Games

What was the first time?

Bazemore, much like Wayne Ellington, enjoyed his first stint in L.A., which was great for him (he averaged 13.1 point per game, which is still his career high), but not for the team (the Lakers went 27,55), as injuries destroyed the roster.

Bazemore left for what?

Bazemore did well in his 23-game debut at Los Angeles. However, the franchise gave up his rights to clear cap space during its free-agency pursuit for Carmelo Anthony. Anthony signed with the New York Knicks. Bazemore signed a two year, $4 million deal in Atlanta Hawks, which was later extended to a four year, $70 million contract in 2016.

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Bazemore is back!

Bazemore stated that "The Lakers were very persistent." "I heard a lot from Coach Vogel and Mr. Pelinka in the first few hours of the evening, once free agency began. They brought an incredible energy to the table. It was like I felt that I had a place to make a real difference.

What the Lakers expect of him in 2021-22

Defense. Bazemore, 32, is one of the youngest players on the roster. This is despite the fact that he is entering his 10th NBA year. He will be asked to return the "amazing energy", which the Lakers' brass gave to their recruiting efforts. This makes up for the lack of ball-hawking defense that L.A. lost to Kentavious Caldwell–Pope and Alex Caruso.

In 2014-15, Wayne Ellington scored an average of 10.0 points per game for the Lakers. Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

- Tenure with Lakers 2014-15

Averages with Lakers: 10.0 Points, 3.7 Rebounds and 37.0 3P% (65 games)

What was the first time?

Ellington was able to have a good season despite playing for the very poor Lakers team of 2014-15. Ellington averaged 10.0 points per game and 3.2 rebounds, while shooting 37% from 3. Los Angeles was just 21-61, which is the worst record in team history.

Ellington left for what?

He signed a $1.5 million one-year deal with Brooklyn Nets. This was his sixth team in seven years of playing in the league.

Ellington is back!

Ellington stated that Pelinka told him how he believed I could help the team and also told me that he tried to get me involved in the past but it didn't work. It didn't take much, as I had already looked at this team and felt that I could help in many ways.

What the Lakers expect of him in 2021-22

Potentially, to be their starting shooting guard. Ellington has a 38.2% career mark from 3 and is a viable floor spacer for defenses when James or Westbrook attack the paint.