We’ve all had the moments in life when the timing just felt right to make a change. That there’s a particular reason why we’re meant to be where we are because that’s how everything is destined to fall into place. For Kent Bazemore, a reunion with the Lakers felt destined this offseason because according to him, LA is where he can succeed at this point of his career alongside teammates he’s looked up to and competed against for the past 9 years.
Bazemore, who once suited up for the purple and gold back in the 2013-14 season, believes his tenure with the Lakers this season will be different. Unlike last time, the veteran will have the opportunity to compete for a championship — something he’s never really experienced in his career.
The 32-year-old mentioned that he was swayed by how the Lakers courted him back to LA.
“I’ve been in a bunch of situations like these. It’s never an easy decision. This summer, I kind of cleared my mental space. I was home alone, actually. My wife and kids were out of town. So, I had a lot of time to kind of think and let the body kind of feel what felt right. And I felt the Lakers were very, very persistent,” Bazemore, who’s on his fourth team in five years, said at his introductory press conference.
If a championship contender like the Lakers go out of their way to charm a free agent, then that means that player is probably going to be a key piece. Bazemore is an experienced guard/forward who is versatile on offense (he can dribble, make open threes, run in transition) and defense (can play on and off the ball). He’s also exactly the kind of veteran that Frank Vogel wants under his system.
“I heard from Mr. Pelinka and coach Vogel a ton over the first couple hours of the evening once free agency started. They really brought an amazing energy to the table. It really felt like I had a place on that roster to really make a difference and, to me, that stuck out the most,” Bazemore said. “It’s my 10th season and you’re all about trying to put yourself in the best position to succeed and I felt like that’s here.”
Bazemore is arguably the most complete (in terms of skills) role player the Lakers signed this offseason. The veteran averaged 7.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting a career high 40.8% from the 3-point line last season with the Golden State Warriors. According to Synergy, he shot 41% on catch-and-shot jumpers, which ranked in the 76th percentile.
Moreover, the two-way player has a strong potential to fit alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. Not only can he chase guards around screens on defense, but Bazemore also converted 42.1% of his open 3-point shot attempts last season. That means he’s a threat on offense, because any defense that’s going to focus on the Lakers’ big three will also have to keep in mind that Bazemore cannot be left open.
Speaking of the perfect fit alongside LeBron James, Bazemore acknowledged that he has a high regard for the four time MVP, and even praised the 2019-20 Lakers’ remarkable run in the Bubble last October. He admired how that Lakers team showed resilience throughout their title run.
“I have a lot of respect for him, for what he’s done for the game of basketball. Even winning the last championship down in the bubble, I was down there,” Bazemore said. “I realized how crazy of a grind it was for them to get it done. It showed a lot.”
Bazemore is not only excited to finally wear the same jersey as James, but also compete against The King in practice. He vividly remembers how much trouble James used to give him on defense during his days with the Atlanta Hawks. James was a big reason why Bazemore never got the chance to experience the Finals, despite how close he was to achieving that.
“My first year in Atlanta, Eastern Conference Finals and I realized how different of a beast he was. I lost a lot of sleep having to guard him,” said Bazemore.
“Even when we would play them, getting chirpy, his team would put me on the floor a little bit but I didn’t back down. I think that just kind of drove me to wanting to beat them. I would say it’s probably mutual respect. I mean, obviously, I don’t have near the track record he has, but he’ll probably say in 15 years that I was one of those guys that never backed down. And even in practice, it ain’t going to change.”
It seems like Bazemore is determined to take the assignment of defending James in practice, but at least this time, he won’t lose sleep anymore. Instead, he’ll get the opportunity of a lifetime to compete for a championship with the purple and gold, and knowing that he’ll do so alongside one of the greatest basketball players in history should help him get plenty of rest.