When the Los Angeles Lakers acquired 2018 NBA free agent Channing Frye in a midseason trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the 11-year veteran probably didn’t know what to expect. Was his contract just trade ballast to make the deal work, or would he actually find a role on the team?
The situation ended up being the latter, and Frye enjoyed his time in L.A. “It’s actually been pretty amazing. This is a top-notch organization, I’ve had a lot of fun,” Frye said in his de facto exit interview.
“Go through one of the wildest injuries (appendectomy) I think anybody has ever had [but] I think that time off really allowed me to look at the organization and see what they are trying to build. Talk with some of the guys, have relationships with them.
“Regardless of the record I think these guys have a lot of fight in them and I appreciate that. I just wanted to help win and show the guys what it takes every day to try and be a winner and be on that championship level. I think the guys are embracing it.”
The Lakers winning 35 games, their highest win total since the 2012-13 season, is hardly attributable to just the presence of a veteran who, intangibles aside, averaged 5.8 points per game for the team.
But having veterans around to teach young players like Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and more the habits that true professionals use to stay ready has value, and it’s something Frye expects to continue no matter where he plays next season.
“Regardless of what happens, I’m still going to talk to these guys. The season didn’t end the way I would’ve expected it. I think we were doing pretty good, but again, injuries came up,” he said.
“I think Lakers fans have a lot to look forward to. These guys are 20, 22, 23. The future is very bright. You see a lot of fight, even out of the G League guys coming up.”
And although Frye says he’ll be there for the young Lakers whether he’s back with the team or not, he made it sound like he’d prefer the former scenario. “This is the Lakers. Who wouldn’t want to be here?” Frye said.
“You look at the young guys on this team, you look at the organization, what they’ve done over the year, and just being in the locker room with these guys, I definitely would (want to re-sign). It comes down to what direction they’re going in, what happens in free agency.
“Most decisions are 99 percent based on business, so it’s nothing personal. If I come back, this is great. If I don’t, then it just didn’t work out. We go in a different direction.”
Frye also cited playing for his fellow University of Arizona alumni, Luke Walton, as another reason he wouldn’t mind returning to Los Angeles in free agency.
“It could’ve been pretty bad but I think having Luke here, being honest, he put me in good situations. I’m happy to have the opportunity to play here,” Frye explained.
“He’s super serious. There’s one thing that’s very common with all Lute Olson players and that’s there’s joke time, then there’s business time. I’ll joke with him all the way up until that buzzer sounds. After that, it’s business.”
Plus, while the Lakers haven’t been as good the last couple of season’s, Frye says there is still an allure to wearing their jersey. “There’s a sense of style, a sense of pride when you put this Lakers uniform on. I kind of used to not like that but it’s grown on me,” Frye said.
“It’s been amazing.”
Frye knows he won’t be the Lakers’ priority in free agency, or their biggest concern in the rotation next season. He understands his role. Frye says if he’s back, he’ll just try to be as ready as he can when called upon.
“I’m a pretty dang good backup, emergency break-the-glass-type guy,” Frye said.
Whether the Lakers break that glass will depend on if they have a free agency emergency. If things don’t go as planned, or if they just need a veteran mentor and occasional contributor, Frye will be there waiting for them.