Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza and Wayne Ellington have all made a lot of money playing on some good and a lot more not-so-good teams. They won’t make nearly as much in their respective returns to Los Angeles, as all three are reportedly taking one-year, veteran’s minimum contracts to come back to the Lakers.
But at this point in each of the trio’s careers, the chance to contend for a title is taking priority — and not just in regards to their contracts. Howard, Ariza and Ellington all made it clear in their introductory press conferences that while they expect to have roles on the 2021-22 Lakers, they aren’t too concerned with what those roles will look like.
Howard knows better than most about the importance of accepting your role on a title-contending Lakers squad. His insistence on playing in the post during his first stint in L.A. was a big reason why his relationship with the team soured and he eventually left in free agency. When he returned to the Lakers in 2019 after nearly falling out of the NBA, Howard accepted his role as the backup big man in a rotation with JaVale McGee and Anthony Davis, and his defense on Nikola Jokic in the 2020 Western Conference Finals was a huge contributor to the Lakers’ five-game series win over the Nuggets.
Now, on a team that has added even more future Hall-of-Famers in Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Marc Gasol, Howard is again ready to play whatever role he needs to.
“I just think it’s about sacrifice,” Howard said. “What are you willing to give up to get the trophy?... My first year [back] here, it was for me, you’ve got to realize, ‘Dwight, just do what they ask you to do, no matter how hard it may be at times.’ Everybody wants to score. Everybody wants to be the person to make the front page of the newspaper.”
But if his reference to “the front page of the newspaper” didn’t make it clear enough that Howard is in a different phase of his basketball life than most younger players with less career accolades, he made it clear there is only one thing that matters to him.
“At the end of the day, holding up that trophy and celebrating with your family and the city and all the people that you love, it just means so much more,” Howard said.
Ariza also has the experience of winning a title on the Lakers as a starter on the 2009 team that beat Anthony’s Nuggets and, yes, Howard’s Magic en route to the franchise’s 15th Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Lakers then opted to let Ariza walk and replace him with Ron Artest in free agency that offseason.
While one could argue the move worked out for both parties — Artest was a big part of the 2010 title team, and Ariza got paid handsomely over the next several years — the now-33-year-old L.A. native did not need any playing time assurances when the Lakers expressed their interest in a reunion earlier this offseason.
“When you’re trying to win a championship, the only thing that matters is the success of the team. So when the success of the team is the first thing you’re thinking about, whatever role you have on it doesn’t even matter as long as you have a role,” Ariza said. “The idea is for everybody to make each other better every day, and to cheer for your teammates’ success. I think that’s the only thing that’s important.”
Ariza has been on six different teams since leaving the Lakers, including some very good ones, but has yet to return to the Finals since his first run in the purple and gold.
Ellington, on the other hand, has never experienced that level of team success. Unlike Howard and Ariza, his previous time on the Lakers came when the franchise was at its lowest, on a 2014-15 squad that sunk deep into the draft lottery. Though Ellington has developed a reputation as a solid shooter, helped by his 42.7% three-point percentage last season, he has never before played for a title contender, or even a team with deep playoff run potential.
Understandably, Ellington is excited to finally play for a team with championship aspirations, and won’t be dwelling on his role with the Lakers this time around either.
“I’m a guy that has been in all those situations. I’ve come off the bench, I’ve started, I’ve played a little, played a lot, so I’m prepared and ready for all that stuff,” Ellington said. “I think as long as you put the team first and you have that mindset that you’re coming into this thing to win a championship and keep that goal at the top of the list, you’ll be just fine.”