A lot has changed for Thomas Bryant and the Lakers both since he last called the building formerly known as the Staples Center home back in 2018. No player from that 2017-18 roster — including Luol Deng’s contract — is on the Lakers in 2022, but as much as things change, they remain the same.
For Bryant, that meant the same first-day feelings as he officially became a Laker again on Wednesday.
“I’m not going to lie, it is kind of weird walking back through these halls,” Bryant said. “It’s like super surreal. It’s like déjà vu doing this all over again from when I first got here. That feeling I had when I first got here, I still have that same feeling. It just feels great to be here.”
Late on Tuesday, Bryant made his decision to return to the Lakers, choosing the Southern California franchise over the Toronto Raptors, among other suitors. Wednesday marked a return home for Bryant after being waived by that very franchise four years ago.
“Just gave me another obstacle to try to overcome,” Bryant said of his reaction to that release in 2018. “It gave me a lot of mental toughness that I had to get through. It gets you stronger throughout times. When stuff happens, you can either dwell on it or you can look at the bright side and fix it and that’s what I tried to do was look at the bright side and (say) ‘Come on, let’s go and fix it.’”
Back then, Bryant was a cap casualty of a Lakers franchise chasing LeBron James, among other stars. He landed in Washington where he blossomed into a modern day center with the ability to stretch out to the 3-point line, a coveted and rare skill for players of his size.
An untimely knee injury amidst condensed NBA schedules in recent years meant that Bryant missed the better part of his final two seasons with the Wizards, playing just 37 games since Dec. 23, 2020.
When he entered free agency this offseason, Bryant was courted by teams looking for a buy-low stretch-5. Initially, the Lakers weren’t even on his radar, but once the two sides expressed interest in a reunion, Bryant couldn’t turn the opportunity down.
“To be honest, I never even knew that door was still open,” Bryant said of a return to the Lakers. “It’s super surreal to be back. Just for the Lakers organization to want me back, it does a really good deal of self-confidence for me and just going forward in my career, it does help.”
The team he left in 2018 was one still trying to find itself with a host of young players in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. The one he returns to is anchored by LeBron James and Anthony Davis and, while still trying to find itself, hopes to be contending for supremacy atop the Western Conference.
It’s an ironic twist that the man once cut from the Lakers to save money is now returning to the franchise on a minimum deal, reuniting with the team as he looks to revitalize both his career post-injury and the Lakers’ chances of title contention.