It was a balmy Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles when Thomas Bryant fell into a time warp.
Sporting a familiar looking hat in front of the local media, Bryant suddenly found himself back where his basketball career started. The same Lakers emblem that once represented the manifestation of a lifelong dream again surrounded him from every corner of his introductory press conference.
The purple and gold insignia that lined his hat and interview background was proof that his past had caught up to his present. A ripple in time and space. His chance at a do-over.
“It’s like super surreal. It’s like deja vu doing this all over again,” Bryant told reporters when attempting to describe what the experience has been like since walking through the halls as a Laker once again.
After finalizing a one-year deal with the team that originally selected him on draft night back in 2017, Bryant will reportedly be given the opportunity to “compete” for the franchise’s starting center position. This comes years after he was waived as a part of a series of precursory cap-related moves that paved the way for LeBron James’ arrival.
The reunion is one that on paper has the potential to be beneficial for both parties.
For Bryant, he’s given the opportunity to perform under a brighter spotlight to showcase both his game, and his health, after a torn ACL derailed what was a promising run in Washington.
For the Lakers, the center not only fills depth and a need as a front-court spacing threat, but is also the latest example of the team’s drastic course correction when it comes to roster building.
Fresh off one of the most disappointment seasons in team memory, the Lakers’ front office entered this summer with the concentrated goal of not making the same mistakes twice.
With six open roster spots, the first order of business was to completely reshape and mold the roster into something new — something better.
In order to do this while also avoiding the pitfalls they fell into last year, a rewiring had to take place when it came to the types of players the team should pursue. Especially on a tight budget.
After going all-in on veteran signings last year, which led to the team entering the 2021-22 campaign as the oldest squad in the league with an average age of 30, their paltry results made it clear that a change needed to be made. The Lakers had to find a way to turn back the clock, and they had to do so while also fitting the vision of their new head coach.
Although the roster is not yet entirely finalized, the average age of their new signees is a mere 25. The team has gobbled up young talent who are primed to benefit from a change of scenery, and also can better execute Darvin Ham’s plan of playing fast and within a 4-out-1-in system.
Amongst the offseason acquisitions thus far, Bryant may end up the closest embodiment of what the Lakers want to look and play like next season.
Despite entering what will already be his sixth season, Bryant is still just 24-years-old and checks multiple boxes that the team was in the market for: raw, hungry, long (7’6” wingspan) and an ability to space the floor (38.5% career shooting on catch and shoot threes prior to his return from injury last season).
Beyond addressing multiple lines on the team's offseason checklist, Bryant’s arrival may also provide a positive impact to those already on the roster, specifically Anthony Davis, whose utilization may be altered this upcoming season.
After the shoddy production the team received from their centers last year, the Lakers were forced to experiment with James at the 5-spot and also relied heavily on Davis, who ended up playing the highest percentage of his possessions at center of his career — 76% according to Cleaning the Glass.
Besides Bryant, the team also signed center Damian Jones this offseason, perhaps further signaling Davis will likely avoid being the sole big on the floor for large portions of the season — something that in the past has been a preference of his.
While the Davis and Jones pairing will likely see considerable time, Bryant’s shooting ability may end up being the swing skill that unlocks the team’s offense, as it not only allows for the deployment of a two-big lineup, but also allows for Ham’s vision of a 4-out 1-in offense to come to fruition.
In his media availability, Bryant made it clear that Ham’s preferred floor alignment is one he believes he can thrive in.
“I feel like a lot of things he’s done in Milwaukee, he’s brought over to L.A., and I really do think I can help him with his offense of just having a floor spacer that’s a five that can shoot the ball really well,” Bryant told reporters on Wednesday.
“I feel like it's going to be two peas in a pod where he’s had success with stretch bigs before and I feel like he can have the same success with me as well.”
Even after their flurry of signings, the team is still not likely done tinkering with the roster, and a major shake-up at the top could be on the horizon. But as of now, it is on the margins where the new image of the Lakers is starting to come into focus. In particular, a player like Bryant helps reveal the underlying template.
When taking into account the talent around him, the coaching staff’s gameplan and the hunger that grows while recovering from a serious injury, Bryant may have finally found the sweet spot in his timing with the Lakers. The roadmap of his career looks to be leading him back to where he started.
His past, present and future are all falling into place.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.