Everything really does come full circle for the Lakers in free agency. For evidence, one doesn’t have to look any further than the return of Kent Bazemore, and the context he left under.
In 2014, the Lakers decided to prioritize keeping Ryan Kelly over Bazemore, declining to even give the latter the qualifying offer that would have made him a restricted free agent after he impressed down the stretch following his acquisition in a midseason trade with the Warriors.
Why? The team wanted to chase Carmelo Anthony in free agency.
We all know how that went. Melo ultimately spurned the purple and gold then, Kelly was out of the league three seasons later, and Bazemore went on to develop into a player good enough for the team to chase again in 2016, ultimately seeing him reject them over... you guessed it: That pulled qualifying offer.
“One thing you want in this league is to be wanted. They didn’t pick it up for that little amount of money,” Bazemore said then. “So that showed how much they believed in me and my abilities. That closed that chapter.”
But it turned out their story wasn’t quite over. Because minutes before the Lakers announced that they had finally signed Anthony in the summer of 2021, they also announced a reunion with Bazemore, who they are once again acquiring after a season spent with the Warriors.
Time is a flat circle.
The Lakers have officially signed Kent Bazemore pic.twitter.com/VJWV6ORZ8X— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) August 7, 2021
And while the Lakers didn’t disclose the terms of the deal, the reporting around it tells us two things: One is that Bazemore will be on a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract, and the other is that he really, really wants to win his first championship.
You see, Bazemore was offered more money to return to The Bay and continue to play for the Warriors alongside his close friend Stephen Curry, but he turned them down, instead taking the Lakers’ smaller offer because he wants to compete for a title. He sees the Lakers as giving him a better opportunity to do so.
But if the Lakers are going to make that happen, they’ll need Bazemore’s help. After losing both Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso this offseason, Bazemore’s tenacious defense isn’t just a luxury, it could be a necessity for this team. The good news is that he appears well-positioned to help on that end.
Not only did Bazemore have the second-highest net rating on the Warriors last season (+5.9), but no Warrior had a bigger impact on the team’s defense. According to NBA.com, the Warriors allowed just 104.6 points per 100 possessions when Bazemore was on the floor. When he sat, that number skyrocketed to 111, the biggest differential on the team.
Bazemore is not some secret Defensive Player of the Year candidate — his metrics are skewed by the team having few other solid defensive guards last season — but he clearly was making his impact felt while he was on the floor. And with both of the team’s main perimeter defenders gone, the Lakers will need Kent to Baze even More than before.
Here's a look at players in our Point of Attack defensive role last season, min 750 minutes.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) August 3, 2021
Y-Axis: Matchup Difficulty
X-Axis: Defensive Impact (via D-LEBRON)
Caruso will be very missed, but check out Bazemore!
Data from @The_BBall_Index pic.twitter.com/kjMprvKPm3
Somewhat promisingly for his potential impact on the other end, Bazemore also shot 40.6% on threes last season, although that’s significantly higher than his career average (35.6%), and came on just 184 attempts.
Still, Bball-Index’s more advance metrics also rated him highly as a shooter, and in Los Angeles, Bazemore should be at least as open as he was with the Warriors while teams dare anyone but the Lakers’ three stars to beat them.
Here's a look at Off Screen, Movement, & Stationary Shooters last season (min 750 minutes) and their 3-point shooting.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) August 3, 2021
Y-Axis: Stable Contested 3PT%
X-Axis: Stable Open 3PT%
I spy Bazemore, Ariza, & Ellington.
Data from @The_BBall_Index pic.twitter.com/bu1DSxwAS1
And at “just” 32 years old, Bazemore actually qualifies as relatively young legs on this team. He’s also been durable, playing no fewer than 65 games in any season since his rookie year, when he played 61. Considering that there is an at the very least decent chance he’ll be the Lakers’ starting shooting guard and their most important point-of-attack defender, that’s really important.
It’s quite the role change from Bazemore’s first stint in Los Angeles, when he was all-but a throw-in as the Warriors acquired Steve Blake in exchange for him and Marshon “Not Dillon” Brooks. This time, the team actually wants him, and unlike in 2016, he wants them back.
Like I said, everything comes full circle. Only this time, it might actually work.