Steve Nash logged his first assist as a Laker more than three months before the season opener.
His presence was among the primary factors that lured Jordan Hill back to the Lakers on Friday as the reserve power forward agreed to a two-year contract for almost $8 million.
“Jordan was excited about the fact that Steve Nash decided to join the Lakers and the prospect of winning a championship in L.A.,” said Kevin Bradbury, Hill’s agent.
Hill will further fortify the Lakers’ bench after forward Antawn Jamison agreed this week to a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum of $1.4 million.
The Lakers acquired the 6-foot-10 Hill in March at the trading deadline in what amounted to a salary dump involving Derek Fisher and a first-round draft pick that was also sent to the Houston Rockets.
Hill, who turns 25 this week, became an unrestricted free agent when Houston decided not to pick up his $3.6 million option for next season before trading him to the Lakers.
Hill was also courted by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but Bradbury said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak’s willingness to bring Hill to Los Angeles and give him an opportunity in the playoffs was a factor in his decision to return.
The former lottery pick was a force late in the regular season and during the Lakers’ first-round playoff series against Denver, with three double-doubles in a six-game span, before fading in the Western Conference semifinals against Oklahoma City. He averaged 3.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in that series against the Thunder.
Overall, Hill averaged 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in seven regular-season games with the Lakers before those averages increased to 4.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in the playoffs.
Hill has an uncertain legal future. He faces third-degree felony charges for allegedly choking his girlfriend in February in Houston. Hill could spend up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
“He feels like he didn’t do anything wrong,” Hill’s attorney, Rusty Hardin Jr., recently told the Los Angeles Times. “He wants to get it behind him.”
TIMBERWOLVES: Greg Stiemsma’s patience with the Minnesota Timberwolves appears to have paid off.
After waiting more than a week for the Timberwolves to finish their dalliance with Nicolas Batum, Stiemsma agreed to terms on an offer sheet with the Wolves on Saturday, his agent Mike Naiditch said.
Terms of the deal were not immediately available. The Boston Celtics have three days to match the offer for the restricted free agent big man, but they are expected to let him return to where his NBA career began.
Stiemsma finished his college career at Wisconsin in 2008 and bounced around from Turkey to South Korea to the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA’s development league before the Timberwolves signed him in the summer of 2010 to be a workout partner for Al Jefferson, who was recovering from a torn ACL.
He did not make the team out of training camp that season, but the hard-working forward/center made an impression with the organization.
He signed a 10-day contract with Cleveland in October of that year, but did not catch on before spending the rest of that season back in Turkey.
The Celtics signed him before the start of last season and he carved a niche for himself as an energy guy off the bench who would spell Kevin Garnett. Stiemsma averaged 2.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 14 minutes per game for the Celtics last season.
Boston coach Doc Rivers loved the energy and intensity on defense that Stiemsma brought, but the Celtics’ tight cap situation after adding Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and re-signing Jeff Green figured to make it difficult for them to match Minnesota’s offer.
If the Wolves do land Stiemsma, it will be a welcome bit of good fortune on the free agent market after a few swings and misses. They negotiated with Portland to try to get Batum for more than a week, only to have the Blazers match their four-year, $45 million offer sheet.
The Wolves then missed out on Lee, who was moved to Boston in a sign-and-trade deal, and power forward Jordan Hill, who re-signed with the Lakers.
Minnesota needed to add another big man to back up starting center Nikola Pekovic after using the amnesty clause on Darko Milicic and letting Anthony Randolph leave in free agency.
They also have agreements with former Blazers guard Brandon Roy and Russian guard Alexey Shved that have yet to be officially announced.
The Wolves also have shown interest in Bulls free agent Ronnie Brewer, Warriors forward Dominic McGuire and in bringing back forward Anthony Tolliver, who has spent the past two seasons in Minnesota.
HEAT: A few days after the Miami Heat championship parade, Juwan Howard was back in workout mode.
Just in case.
Howard said Friday that he is still deciding whether he wants to return for a 19th NBA season, although the direction he’s leaning might be indicated by his being the first player back in the Heat practice gym once the title celebrations had slowed down a bit.
“I still have the itch,” Howard said while appearing at a Heat “Learn to Swim” event for children. “I still have the passion and the love for the game. More importantly, I still like staying in shape and I can’t sit on my behind. I’m still iffy as far as if I want to come back and play or not, but I’ll tell you one thing <0x2014> once I decide, I want to be ready. So I am working out ... ready for whatever happens.”
Howard turns 40 next Feb. 7.
He has spent the past two seasons with the Heat, appearing in 85 regular-season and 20 playoff games, all in a reserve role. Howard is a free agent, though has indicated he would stay with the Heat if they want him back.
This season’s championship was the first pro title for Howard, part of Michigan’s famed “Fab Five” in the early 1990s. He has 16,138 career points, putting him 16th among active NBA players and 91st in league history, according to STATS LLC.
“It really hasn’t hit me,” Howard said.
He has been considered a huge asset in the Heat locker room <0x2014> Dwyane Wade told teammates late in the clinching game of the NBA Finals against Oklahoma City that they needed to maintain a lead to ensure Howard got a few minutes of playing time. Plus, he’s been a mentor of sorts to just about everyone on the Heat roster.
“This is a special moment, a special time for this team,” Howard said. “I’m still smiling, every day. Walking around throughout the city, people of course are patting you on the back, they’re so proud of this past season and our accomplishments. But now it’s time for us to really look back on what has happened throughout the season, be proud of all the hard work we put into it.”