EL SEGUNDO — The routine became annoyingly familiar as Tyler Ennis joined his fourth team in only his fourth NBA season. Then something happened that Ennis said he had never experienced before ever since the Phoenix Suns selected him 18th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.
He actually felt welcome.
The Lakers had acquired the 22-year-old Ennis from the Houston Rockets before the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Ennis then soon discovered the team had higher aspirations than just unloading 32-year-old point guard Marcelo Huertas. The Lakers actually seemed intrigued on what Ennis could provide on the court.
Lakers coach Luke Walton became the first one to call Ennis upon his arrival. Walton later encouraged Ennis to shoot. Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka had extensive conversations with Ennis, too. And Ennis had what he called a “good meeting” during his exit interview last week, as he heard Johnson and Pelinka provide positive feedback after Ennis averaged a career-high 7.7 points on 45.1 percent shooting and 2.4 assists in 17.8 minutes through 22 games.
“This is honestly the first time I was able to come onto a team and get a fair shot and a fair opportunity,” Ennis said. “Outside of all the politics and everything else that goes on in the NBA, this is the one stop where I can say they gave me a chance. They believed in me. That’s something I want to continue and hopefully I’m here to continue that next year.”
So many variables remain in play before Ennis knows if that will happen.
The Lakers will wait to see if they keep their top-three protected pick in the NBA draft lottery on May 16. Though Ennis will become an unrestricted free agent in July after making a relatively inexpensive $1.7 million, the Lakers have placed higher priority on landing marquee free agents. Nonetheless, Ennis reported the Lakers’ front office providing positive feedback during his two-month audition.
“I think they were pleased with what I did and happy with what I brought to the team,” Ennis said. “I obviously want to continue being a Laker. I think at this point it’s out of my hands. But I hope the front office and my agency can get it done.”
The reasons Ennis hopes to continue wearing a purple and gold uniform goe beyond trying to find stability during an uneven NBA career after starring for one season at Syracuse.
Ennis noted that he and Walton built a close relationship pretty quickly. Ennis also credited Walton for “helping me out a lot.” After encouraging Ennis to take open shots, Walton also granted Ennis more freedom to call his own plays. Though Ennis mostly served as a backup to second-year guard D’Angelo Russell, Ennis started in two games and averaged 16.5 points on 50 percent shooting and 5.5 assists during that time period.
Ennis also had already become close friends with third-year guard Jordan Clarkson after going through pre-draft workouts together. Though most of the Lakers featured other young players intent on receiving minutes, Ennis sensed his teammates welcomed him without being territorial.
So, Ennis called his time with the Lakers “one of the most comfortable that I’ve been since I’ve gotten in the league.”
“I had a good time being here. I thought I was going to be able to get out there, show what I can do and also just get comfortable on the court,” Ennis said. “Coming here and being able to be myself and be comfortable around a team that is rebuilding and be with such a great organization is a blessing for me. This is possibly one of the best spots I could’ve ended up in a trade.”
Granted, the Lakers would still like to see more. Like with every player, Johnson and Pelinka told Ennis to improve his conditioning. Ennis will also focus on defense this summer, mindful of the Lakers’ low rankings and a possible stigma for playing for an Orange team that featured a 2-3 zone defense instead of man-to-man. And Walton has wanted Ennis to continue to look for his shot.
As far as leaving a first impression, though, Ennis sounded confident the Lakers liked having him around. After already facing short stints in Phoenix (2014), Milwaukee (2014-16) and Houston (2016-17), however, Ennis seemed aware of the uncertainty ahead.
“Since the first time I got traded, you kind of realize how quickly things can move,” Ennis said. “I was traded my rookie season. From that day forward, whenever I stepped on the court, I was playing for my NBA season and my NBA career. That helped me. That was the way I approached everything. So when I got here, nothing had to change. I was ready to go.”
Ennis sensed he was ready to go partly because of how the Lakers welcomed him.