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Talen Horton-Tucker returned to L.A. with almost no fanfare

How quickly things have changed for the 21-year-old former Lakers wunderkind.

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Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

It seems like just yesterday that Frank Vogel was telling reporters in the NBA bubble how incredible Talen Horton-Tucker looked in practice.

Great things seemed destined for Horton-Tucker — some people may have gotten carried away — after Vogel sprung him on the Rockets in Game 4 of the 2020 Western Conference semifinals, and THT followed that up with an epic preseason. Despite having a 10-man rotation of capable veterans in the 2020-21 season, Vogel moved aside Wes Matthews and Markieff Morris to make time for Horton-Tucker during the middle of the year; the Lakers had a point differential of plus-8.5 when THT played point guard that season, per Cleaning the Glass.

And then the Lakers prioritized Horton-Tucker over Alex Caruso, a heartbreaking decision at the time, and one that has aged even more poorly. THT got hurt to start the year, and setting aside one ridiculous shooting stretch when he first came back from injury, struggled to find his place in a roster littered with ball handlers. After the Lakers reportedly refused to part with THT in their attempted acquisition of Kyle Lowry, they settled for trading him for Patrick Beverley.

Knowing all of that, it was jarring to see how little it mattered when Horton-Tucker returned to Los Angeles for the first time as a member of the Utah Jazz. Of course, he got his tribute video — even if he joked with Kyle Goon that it might not happen — but once the reception concluded, there was no more mention of Horton-Tucker the rest of the night. LeBron, who THT says still texts him, wasn’t asked about his former teammate and fellow Klutch Sports client postgame. Neither was Anthony Davis. That was decidedly not the case with Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, or any number of other Laker youngins who have come back to L.A.

Talen Horton-Tucker was once a player who was a fulcrum of the Lakers’ present and future. He ended Friday as a footnote.

I mean this is as no disrespect to Horton-Tucker, who brought his usual THT charm to the night’s proceedings. He barreled his way to the basket, always finishing with his right even if that required a reverse — I cackled when LeBron read his spin move perfectly in the second quarter and swallowed his layup attempt. THT had some important buckets early in the fourth to maintain the Jazz lead when the Lakers were threatening. He looks settled and satisfied in his new surroundings.

Horton-Tucker was just supposed to mean so much more to the Lakers. Sure, he had an unremarkable season in 2012-22, no one would deny that — the Lakers only found one clip from that year to even include in his tribute video. It’s still weird that his departure isn’t even acknowledged.

But THT turns 22 at the end of this month. There is plenty of time for him to deliver the epic career that seemed possible for him two years ago. Maybe then, his origins as a Baby Laker will resonate more.

Perhaps it’s easier to ignore THT if he is a reminder of the mistakes the Lakers made in 2021. Or the market for his services this summer could be correct, and the hype he had early in his career isn’t indicative of the player he now is. Whatever the case, there is generally much more hubbub around the ones who got away from the purple and gold. As the man who once inspired such wild optimism among Lakers fans, Talen Horton-Tucker deserved some.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Sabreena on Twitter at @sabreenajm.

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