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NBA Free Agency 2021: The Summer of Returns

Rajon Rondo is one of several Lakers and several other free agents to return to their former teams.
Rajon Rondo is one of several Lakers and several other free agents to return to their former teams.

There has been a common theme this offseason for free agents, and it may be something you may not immediately think of: players returning to former teams. The most obvious example is the Los Angeles Lakers. In an effort to fill out the roster after trading for Russell Westbrook to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis, they have organized something of a former Lakers’ reunion tour. The Lakers have five players who have had previous stints making their returns to purple and gold: Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore, and now Rajon Rondo, who split last season between the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers. For Howard, this is his third (!) stint in LA. Technically, they have six players that have played at home at Staples Center, with another former Clippers player, DeAndre Jordan, signing with the Lakers.

Rajon Rondo’s return

Rajon Rondo (2nd stint) and Dwight Howard (3rd stint) are two of the five former Lakers to make returns.
Rajon Rondo (2nd stint) and Dwight Howard (3rd stint) are two of the five former Lakers to make returns.

From the time that Rondo was traded from the hallway “rival” LA Clippers to the Memphis Grizzlies, it was highly speculated that Memphis would not keep Rondo, due to the guaranteed contracts. Rondo was also highly expected to find his way back to LA again, this time with the Lakers. Lo and behold, mere weeks after being acquired by the Grizzlies, Rondo was waived, clearing the path for him to sign a 1-yr, $2.6 million deal back in the purple and gold. Coach Frank Vogel said his leadership and basketball IQ was sorely missed.

After being acquired from the Hawks for Lou Williams at the trading deadline, Rondo had a largely uneven stint with the Clippers, eventually falling behind Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, Patrick Beverley and even Luke Kennard in the backcourt rotation in the playoffs. It has been suggested that Rondo, who can occasionally be abrasive, did not always see eye-to-eye with coach and fellow (former) point guard Tyronn Lue.

Rondo will add yet another veteran presence to the Lakers as a backup to Russell Westbrook. He will likely play a limited role in the regular season, especially with the presence of younger guards Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk. However, the team hopes that he can rekindle his typical “Playoff Rondo” exploits, as he did in the 2020 championship team in the bubble.

On a team that is the oldest in the association, with an average age is 30.9, the 35-year-old Rondo will be only the sixth oldest player.

Newly minted champion returns to Spurs

After helping the Bucks win the title, <a href='https://www.sportskeeda.com/basketball/bryn-forbes' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer'>Bryn Forbes</a> returned to the Spurs, the team that gave him a chance after being undrafted.
After helping the Bucks win the title, Bryn Forbes returned to the Spurs, the team that gave him a chance after being undrafted.

In the case of combo guard Bryn Forbes, he is coming off the heels of winning a championship with the Milwaukee Bucks. He was a key bench player and three-point shooter for the regular season and much of the playoffs before the Finals against the Suns, when his defensive shortcomings were exposed against Chris Paul and Devin Booker. After declining his option, Forbes signed with the San Antonio Spurs, on a 2-yr, $4.8 million contract.

He will return to the team and system that established him as an instant offensive guard off the bench and playmaker, and attracted Milwaukee to sign him. Forbes also returns to the team that gave him a shot after going undrafted in 2016 out of Michigan State. He will be a key part of a rebuilding but promising Spurs team that still has the foundation of coach Gregg Popovich. At 28, he will be one of their established veterans.

Key element of the Warriors dynasty comes back

<a href='https://www.sportskeeda.com/basketball/andre-iguodala' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer'>Andre Iguodala</a> was a vital part of the Warriors' dynasty, and will sign for one last hurrah.
Andre Iguodala was a vital part of the Warriors' dynasty, and will sign for one last hurrah.

When the Warriors dynasty was established in the mid-2010s, they were led by the thrilling marksmanship and flash of Steph Curry, the quintessential 3-and-D and the occasionally unstoppable shooting by Klay Thompson, the unstoppable scoring and shooting (and underrated defense) of Kevin Durant, and the Swiss army knife, in the trenches, dirty work, and flair of Draymond Green.

But someone who was an extremely important piece, who made clutch shots or made clutch defensive stops when needed was Andre Iguodala. He was the veteran leader and former All-Star who is willing to take a backseat to the young guns, but still plays a vital role and still provides decent stats, especially in the postseason.

He has been with the Miami Heat for the last two seasons, making a surprise run to the Finals in the 2020 bubble. The Heat declined his option, so he became an unrestricted free agent. The Lakers and Nets reportedly were among the teams interested, but the 37-year-old decided to return for 1 year and $2.6 million with the Warriors, where he will likely retire.

He will be reunited with Curry and Thompson (who will be back after a 2-year layoff with his knee and Achilles), along with Draymond Green, but he will be a mentor to the young players and rookies on the roster.

Here's a look at all of the free agents who returned to former teams this offseason:

Rajon Rondo: Lakers (previously 2018-2020)

Dwight Howard: Lakers (previously 2012-2013, 2019-2020)

Andre Iguodala: Warriors (previously 2013-2019)

Trevor Ariza: Lakers (previously 2007-2009)

Kent Bazemore: Lakers (previously 2014)

Wayne Ellington: Lakers (previously 2014-2015)

Bryn Forbes: Spurs (previously 2016-2020)

Enes Kanter: Celtics (previously 2019-2020)

Elfrid Payton: Suns (previously 2018)

Alex Len: Kings (previously 2019)

E'Twaun Moore: Magic (previously 2012-2014)

Honorable Mention:

Eric Bledsoe was re-acquired by the LA Clippers in a trade involving Rajon Rondo and Patrick Beverley. He played with the Clippers previously from 2010 to 2013.

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Edited by Arnav Kholkar
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