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LeBron James’ newest teammates speak out after joining Lakers

dwight howard trevor ariza wayne ellington kendrick nunn talen horton tucker malik monk lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers free agent signings and the acquisition of Russell Westbrook became official on Friday. Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, Kendrick Nunn, Malik Monk, and Talen Horton-Tucker signed their contracts at the Lakers facility then spoke to the media.

Carmelo Anthony, Kent Bazemore, and Westbrook were not available, though we did get exclusive first-looks at Anthony’s and Westbrook’s gold threads. We also did get cameos from Russ, Melo, and LeBron James, via Dwight Howard’s impersonation.

There were two main takeaways from the day, consistent across the Zooms: These dudes are amped to be on, or back with, the Lakers, and they’re willing to be unselfish in order to win a ring.

All in all, it was a joyful day at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo. Let’s run through a few notable quotes from each player.

Dwight Howard

Howard — who was disappointed not to return to the Lakers in 2020-21, a move the organization would surely redo — couldn’t hide his giddiness from the moment he sat down (before taking questions, he provided an upbeat weather report. Shockingly, it’s sunny in Los Angeles today.)

Howard explained his decision to return to Los Angeles for a third go-round.

“What brought me back to the Lakers? Love,” he stated. “Love for the game, love for this city, love for the team. And just the opportunity to win.”

“It’s just something about the Lakers and myself, it’s like we’re supposed to be together,” he continued. “I had some of my greatest moments here in a Lakers jersey … playing with arguably the greatest player in the NBA with Kobe, now playing with LeBron, AD, Russ, Carmelo. It’s like a dream … I love this city. I think that it fits me well. I’m just looking forward to being whatever I need to be for this team to win.”

At this stage of his career, Howard — like Carmelo — has embraced a smaller role and has a clear perspective on his priorities.

“This will be my 18th year in the league,” he said. “So, at this point, it’s all about enjoying every single moment. Having my family around, being around great teammates and great people and the greatest organization in the NBA.”

“Rebounding, playing defense, catching lobs. That’s all I gotta focus on.”

At his age, Howard said he’s more focused on his nutrition than ever and making sure he can “get to bed by 11 o’clock.”

Howard pointed out his chemistry with LeBron and Anthony Davis dating back to 2019-20 and his experience playing with Carmelo on the 2008 Olympic team (LeBron was there, too).

Dwight mentioned that he and Ariza have been friends since they were 15, and are looking forward to being teammates for the third time in the NBA (Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets).

Wayne Ellington

Ellington, who played with the Lakers in 2014-15, literally couldn’t hide his excitement on Friday, as he wore a slick purple blazer and white “LA” cap. (Also: his teeth are looking pristine.)

The veteran sharpshooter said he’s learned a lot since his first Lakers stint when he was a “silly, young man looking to find his way.”

Ellington knows he was brought in to shoot and space, but he understands that defense comes first on this Lakers team.

“Defense is what wins championships, at the end of the day. When you got the length and size of athleticism this team has, it’ll be easy to defend. You got help all over the court. You got guys with experience that know how to communicate … You got forces like AD and Dwight back there to swat things around.”

That said, Ellington knows his role is to drain open looks — of which he should get plenty. “My three-point shooting is going to be a premium … I feel like I’m going to get some of best looks I’ve gotten, not only in my NBA career but in my life, this coming season.”

Ellington told ClutchPoints that he believes his off-ball movement can be just as impactful as knocking down shots.

Ellington — like LeBron — doesn’t see age being a problem. “I think age is just a number … You got guys still playing some of their best basketball.”

“I’m just full of excitement,” Ellington said with a beaming smile.

Trevor Ariza

13 seasons — and stops at seven different franchises — after Ariza won a championship alongside Kobe Bryant in 2008-09, the 36-year old is back in Los Angeles.

And while Ariza revealed that Westbrook started hitting him up “20 minutes after he got traded” and they started constant communication, Ariza said the “biggest recruiter” was his children, who live in L.A. (He said he only considered the Lakers or returning to the Miami Heat.)

Like Ellington, Ariza sees the Lakers age as a positive.

“I just believe that the only mindset that there is, is to win,” Ariza said. “We have a lot of veterans on this team, and a lot of players that’s been doing this for a long time. So the only thing that there is to do is to hold each other accountable.”

“We’ve all seen so much in this league that nothing surprises,” he added. “We understand how long the season is, how to pace yourself, how to take care of your body. Understanding how important it is for everybody to be on the same page to get to that ultimate goal.”

Ariza also had praise for Carmelo Anthony. He said Anthony’s mental strength and persistence throughout his eventful NBA journey “should be celebrated.”

“Carmelo has always been one of the toughest dudes in the world to guard…everything he brings to the table is just a nightmare for a defender.”

Ariza said he has no idea what his role will be but doesn’t think “it matters for anybody that’s here.”

“When you’re trying to win a championship, the only thing that matters is the success of the team … The idea is to make each other better every day and to cheer for your teammates’ success.”

Kendrick Nunn

Unlike most of the Lakers’ signings, Nunn — who averaged 15.0 PPG over two seasons in Miami — will earn $5 million in 2021-22 via the taxpayer mid-level exception. In fact, he turned down money to sign up with the Lakers. The 26-year old explained why:

“L.A. would be appealing to anyone, honestly speaking,” he said with a wry smile. “But, just that great chance to win a ring. I wanted to be in that position again. And also just to help my teammates and learn from them. I looked at the roster, I’m one of the younger guys, so I’m gonna be a sponge to a lot of these guys in the locker room.”

Nunn appreciates the gravity of playing for the league’s most glamorous franchise.

“It means a lot. I’m honored to be in this position, to put on an L.A. Lakers jersey. This is a powerhouse franchise, it means everything … I love L.A. and I want to represent as well as I can.”

Nunn sees himself as a point guard first, though said he’s comfortable playing either guard spot. He’ll likely do both for the Lakers. He believes he can be a difference-maker on defense, too.

“I’m a point guard, combo guard, however you want to call it in today’s game,” he said. “I just bring my strengths to the game, whether it’s at the 1 or the 2. On-the-ball or off-the-ball. Playing tough on both sides of the floor and bringing my strengths, which is scoring, obviously, play-making, getting my teammates involved, and getting after it defensively. I’m real tenacious on the defensive end. I take pride in playing defense.”

Nunn sounded like a veteran describing his team-first approach. “I’m a guy that knows how to sacrifice for the better of the team,” he said. “I know how to do that. And I’m willing to do that. It’s not about myself, it’s a team sport. I want to win.”

(He’s still bitter about the 2020 Finals. “Pretty mad about the loss. I’m trying to get that back.”)

Of the current Lakers, Nunn has only played with Ariza in the NBA, but he goes back a long way with Horton-Tucker. Nunn was a star at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago before THT attended.

“I’ve been seeing Talen grow since he was a freshman in high school,” Nunn said. “His growth’s been unbelievable…When I signed with the Lakers…he was excited for me. We get to play alongside each other and create some havoc.”

Malik Monk

Monk made dramatic strides in 2020-21 after a tough first three seasons with the Charlotte Hornets. He hopes to that carry that momentum into Staples Center, ideally with consistent playing time.

“I got better every year and that was my goal … I never got a whole year with the same amount of minutes.”

“I think I bring a lot to the table here,” he added. “I bring excitement, just like Westbrook, to the game. Plus shooting.”

Folks around the league were a bit surprised Monk took a veteran’s minimum, but Monk said the opportunity to join the Lakers culture was singularly appealing. (Sensing a theme?)

“The environment, and this organization, and all the knowledge that I’ll learn: How to be a pro. How to work. How to work smarter. And just how to be a man. I’m still learning, going through life. I’m 23…I can learn not just being on the basketball court, but off it too.”

“I’m gonna get everything out of this opportunity. I’m just thankful to have this opportunity to be here with all these greats, and of course this amazing organization.”

On-the-court, Monk said he can learn “everything” from LeBron James, as “a lot more easier shots” should come his way. “A lot more uncontested shots, a lot more drives that I can get downhill to, cause LeBron and Westbrook and AD, they’re going to make the floor space out for all of us.”

Monk is hoping some of Westbrook’s relentless intensity will rub off on him.

“I can’t explain how excited I am,” he said about learning from Russ. “How to attack, when to attack, when not to attack, and just how to be on go-mode the whole time … He never takes no plays off. He’s always going at 100 percent.”

Talen Horton-Tucker

Horton-Tucker was the lone member of the 2020-21 Lakers to speak on Friday, fresh off signing his four-year, $37 million deal. THT said he was focused on returning to L.A. after the first day of free agency, and he was “happy” the two sides could work it out.

“It was a no-brainer to come back where I started,” he said.

THT spoke about filling out his game, especially on defense — which will be key following the departure of Alex Caruso.

“I still want to, first defensively, just get better all-around. Try to use my youth and my length just to get after it. I want to continue to improve my three-point shooting, continue my play-making, a lot of different things like that. Just to grow around this group will be amazing.”

He said he’s been “watching a lot of film” and is working on “being more aware off-ball” on defense, as Frank Vogel demands.

On the other end, like Ellington, THT is looking forward to running with elite offensive talent.

“Offensively, I feel like me being on the floor with the other great guys that we have, I just feel like it will just create ample opportunity for me to showcase whatever I can do.”

Like Monk, Horton-Tucker is looking forward to learning from Westbrook, specifically “how he brings himself to work every day.”

 

It’s only one day, but the vibes are good so far.