Los Angeles Lakers Thomas Bryant

The Metamorphosis of a Big Man: A full-circle moment with Thomas Bryant

It was June of 2017, right before midnight ET at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY when the Lakers got word “the trade” was official and they’d be getting the 42nd pick, Thomas Bryant.  

Just a few hours prior, Thomas approached the draft stage after being picked up in the second round— and left the stage in a Utah Jazz hat.  

As Los Angeles waited for league approval—Tony Bradley going to Utah in exchange for TB and Josh Hart—hours passed by.  

The Lakers media crew on the ground in Brooklyn packed up their equipment. It was unlikely that any official word about the trade would be coming through that late— but then it did—and so they unpacked their cameras and went looking for Thomas around the building.  

They found him in the hallway outside the media room... only this time, he was wearing a Lakers hat.  

BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 22: Thomas Bryant poses for a portrait after being selected forty second overall by the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2017 NBA Draft on June 22, 2017 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)

As Thomas stood there, repping his new team, he could never have predicted what was to come for him as a basketball player. There was no way he could have planned for the heartbreak, the devastation, and the redemption that would ensue.  

But that’s okay because it had to go this way. If something went differently then he might not have ended up back here, back with the Lakers.  

Second chances are rare, but here one is.  

As TB walks through the gold-plated door on his way to practice he’s reminded of his former self, and he can reflect on how far he’s come and how much further he can go this year in Los Angeles.  

“It’s just surreal coming back to the Los Angeles Lakers from my rookie season,” he acknowledged. “You know? Who would wanna say no to that?” 

No matter if he’s in the starting five or coming off the bench, “the training regimen stays the same,” the center explained. “I’m just here to help the team with whatever it may be. Whether it’s starting, coming off the bench, anything like that, I have full trust in all of my abilities to go out there and show what I can do to help this team win.” 

About five years ago, TB spent his rookie season with the Lakers, primarily suiting up for the South Bay Lakers. He was a competitive player; he played hard—always. And watching him you could tell that every play, every moment, meant something to him, no matter how consequential. 

That season, he helped take South Bay to the G League Western Conference Finals. The WCF are different in the G League; it all comes down to one game.  

In that deciding game, Thomas and the South Bay Lakers fell to his now-current teammate, Lonnie Walker, and the Austin Spurs. Afterward in the locker room, you could see the loss really affected him.  

He’s an emotional player, always has been, and that’s a powerful component to a team. That energy is infectious, it makes each guy want to work a little harder.  

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 2: Thomas Bryant #31 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during the game against the Denver Nuggets during a preseason game on October 2, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

This September, sitting there on the sideline, back at the Lakers’ practice court in El Segundo, Thomas explained, “One thing, “I wanna’ bring is the intensity and passion that I have for the game of basketball. You know? And translate that to a great, infectious energy for all of us.” 

After his rookie year with Los Angeles, he moved on to the Washington Wizards. His time on South Bay really developed his game. During that 2018-19 season with Washington, he made an immediate impact, the big man shot 65% from the field for 72 games. And he was even getting some looks from beyond the arc (a skill he’s always enjoyed). The next two seasons following, TB improved his three-point shooting even more and was going around 40% from beyond the arc for the Wizards.  

Then in January of 2021, Bryant suffered an ACL tear, a truly devastating injury for any athlete. “It really wasn’t easy,” he said of his recovery, “the way that I tried to stay mentally tough is that I literally took it one day at a time, just trying to dig deeper into myself and asking, ‘okay what is the next task that I'm going to accomplish, how am I going to change my mindset physically and mentally throughout all of this?’” 

When he returned for Washington’s 2021-22 season, he averaged 7 pts and 4 reb in 16 minutes for 27 games. Last season was about dipping a toe in the water, this season Thomas wants to dive in.   

With this Lakers squad, the hope is that TB will smother shooters and bring some space to the floor because the big man likes his chances from three.  

When it was mentioned that his career average from the arc is 35%, he was surprised. “Wow, really I didn’t know that,” he replied.  


“You know what’s funny? When I was younger, I always shot, and I always tried to make as many shots as I could,” Thomas recalled, “I never had a teacher or anything, it was all for the love and passion I had for the game. I always loved shooting the ball. I told myself as a big man you’ve gotta’ be able to do this and you’ve gotta be able to shoot. My coaches never really liked that until now.” 

Coming in with the understanding that he’s playing with “some of the best players in the world,” TB wants to stay on top of everything and stay “very, veryyyyyy detail-oriented,” as he put it. And a stretch-five is definitely a valuable asset for Head Coach Darvin Ham and this Lakers team.  

Because of TB’s accuracy from outside, he’s too big of a threat to leave open along the perimeter, and so as his defender follows him out that opens up the post for Anthony Davis and driving lanes for LeBron James.   

Thomas was 20 years old the last time he repped the purple and gold. At 25, he’s returned with that same big smile and overall earnestness, but there’s something different.  

“When an injury like that happens, a lot of stuff changes,” he said. 

For TB, this season was about staying healthy and becoming an even better basketball player than before the injury. Things didn’t go quite according to plan as he injured his left thumb during preseason and has missed the start of the season, but TB is set to rejoin his team on the floor this November.  

Even with the start of the season not going as planned, after enduring a torn ACL, Thomas has a grasp on the bigger picture.

“You have to learn to adapt and figure it out. Just like with basketball, if one thing isn’t working, I can find another way to impact the game,” he said.