Throughout a stretch of down years, as the Lakers waded through a rebuilding process, a host of veterans came and went, donning the purple and gold for one season at a time, sometimes even shorter. Players like Ed Davis, Kendall Marshall, Xavier Henry and Chris Kaman passed through the franchise, becoming fan favorites (to varying degrees) in the process. Another name near the top of the list from that time period is Wayne Ellington.
Despite playing just 65 games in an injury-shortened 2014-15 season with the Lakers, Ellington’s connection with Kobe Bryant and the fanbase left a lasting impact. His one season saw an uninspiring Lakers team under Byron Scott finish 21-61 before Ellington traded one coast for another, signing with the Brooklyn Nets following the summer.
As he continued a fruitful career as one of the league’s best 3-point specialists, fans wondered what may have been had he remained a Laker. Eventually, Ellington found his way back to Los Angeles this summer, six years removed from his first stint with the franchise.
And during his first meeting with the media after officially being re-announced as a Laker, Ellington revealed it wasn’t just fans who wished he’d had a longer tenure in Hollywood.
“Well, I never really wanted to leave,” Ellington said when asked what brought him back. “So to be back now, under these circumstances and in this situation, I couldn’t be happier. It couldn’t be more of a blessing for me and my family, so when they called and I spoke to Rob (Pelinka), I spoke to coach (Frank Vogel), it was an easy decision.”
Ellington’s role in the league since his Lakers days rather quickly changed from a run-of-the-mill shooting guard to a hyper-specialized 3-point sniper. During his season in Los Angeles, Ellington’s 3-point attempt rate — or the percentage of his field goals that were 3-pointers — was 39.4%. That figure rapidly rose over the next four years, peaking at 82.7% in Miami in 2017-18.
That figure still is a career-high mark for the 33-year-old, but his 3-point attempt rate has stayed above 80% in every season since. That, along with gaining the experience of playing in the NBA for 12 seasons, are the biggest differences for Ellington since his first stint.
“I’ve learned a lot since then. I feel like at that point in my career, I was still a young man in this league trying to find his way,” Ellington said. “Now, I’ve been through a lot of different situations, a lot of different experiences. And to be now a part of this team, when you look back at that team, it’s just all come full circle.
“You know how people do those memes, you look at that roster, you could do a ‘how it’s going then, compared to how it’s going now’ ... I think that would be amazing to see.”
To his point, the roster has, naturally, changed as drastically as a “how it started... how it’s going” meme since Ellington’s first go-round with team. The Lakers used 16 different starting lineups that season, with Ellington featuring in over half of them. The most common lineup featuring the UNC product also included Carlos Boozer, Jordan Clarkson, Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre.
Miraculously, that lineup led off seven games and won three of them. The likes of Wes Johnson, Jordan Hill and Jeremy Lin all featured heavily in lineups that season as well. Of all the players mentioned, only Clarkson remains active in the NBA, with Julius Randle — who broke his leg in game one of the season — the only other player from that Lakers roster still playing in 2021.
The lineups Ellington will take the floor with this year will be as vastly different as his role will be within those units from his first time in purple and gold. However, what has remained constant since 2014 will be fans’ support of Ellington and the franchise, an appreciation that has long gone both ways.