Dwight Howard and Lakers are ‘just supposed to be together’

Dwight Howard prepares for introductions before a game in 2020.
Dwight Howard prepares for introductions before a game in 2020 at Staples Center.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Dwight Howard sat in front of a camera wearing a black T-shirt with “Wealthy” printed on it while doing a videoconference after having officially signed his contact Friday to return to the Lakers for the third time, a radiant smile and an exuberant demeanor on full display.

He was upbeat and excited during an almost 20-minute conversation with reporters. He was thoughtful, happy and excited as he greeted most of the reporters by name.

His first stint with the Lakers lasted the 2012-13 season, his role as the sidekick to Kobe Bryant unfulfilling, sending Howard away to join the Houston Rockets the next season.

Howard’s second go-around was 2019-20, a season in which he won an NBA championship playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Yet as fulfilling as that was, Howard departed to Philadelphia for the next season, where he averaged 7.0 points and 8.4 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game.

Howard is back for a third run with the Lakers, signing a one-year deal for the veteran minimum.

“I just think that we supposed to be together. Just something about the Lakers and myself. It’s like we were just supposed to be together,” the 35-year-old center said. “I had some of my greatest times, some of my greatest moments here in a Lakers jersey playing in L.A. And I played with arguably the greatest player in the NBA with Kobe. Now playing with LeBron and AD and Russ [Westbrook] and Carmelo [Anthony], it’s like a dream.

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“So I’m super excited, I love the city, I think that it fits me well and I’m just looking forward to being whatever I need to be for this team to win. We’ve had experience of winning together before, myself and with AD and Bron. … So, I’m just looking forward to … just this whole year.”

The Lakers also announced Friday, the first day free agents could finalize deals, the signings of forward Trevor Ariza as well as guards Talen Horton-Tucker,Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn and Wayne Ellington.

When the Lakers re-signed the 20-year-old Horton-Tucker to a three-year deal for $32 million, the average age of the veteran-laden team went from 32.4 to 31.4 years.

Obviously having his youth and talent was a priority for the Lakers.

As for Horton-Tucker, who averaged 9.0 points, 2.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds last season, he had eyes only on staying with the Lakers.

“I was pretty focused on trying to get back here after the first day,” he said. “Just wanted to make it an emphasis to get back. So, I was happy we were able to get it done after the first day.”

Ariza played for the Lakers on their 2009 championship team, becoming a little brother to Bryant.

After playing last season in Miami, Ariza, who starred at Westchester High and UCLA, loved the idea of playing for the Lakers again because his daughter, Taylor, and sons, Tristan and Tajh, live in Los Angeles and “were ready for me to be home.”

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Ariza also got a phone call to help him make his decision.

“Who recruited me?” he said, laughing. “It’s funny because Russ got traded, and 20 minutes after he got traded, he was on my phone. So, I don’t know if he was telling me he was happy to be home, or he wanted to go to dinner, or whatever, what he wanted to do. I just know he called my phone like, ‘Yo, what are you doing? Where are you at? I need to talk to you. I need to see you.’ And you know, from then on, we kept in constant communication. And it just so happened that I’m here. But I think the biggest recruiter, if you want me to be honest, was my children.”