Jordan Farmar, shown at a Delta Air Lines event in Beverly Hills last month,… (Joe Scarnici / Getty Images )
Jordan Farmar had to leave, had to distance himself from Los Angeles and the Lakers, before he could realize he belongs here and that nothing would feel as good to him as wearing purple and gold.
Farmar, a product of Woodland Hills Taft High and two years at UCLA, began his career with the Lakers and contributed to their title runs in 2009 and 2010 as a backup point guard. He departed as a free agent but has come home again at 26, more confident and mature.
"I'm in a great place," he said a few days ago, meaning not just Southern California but the mind-set he developed the last three years.
In 2010, Farmar was frustrated over playing a secondary role in Phil Jackson's triangle offense, which didn't suit the player's game. His journey took him to New Jersey, where he averaged 9.6 and 10.4 points per game in two seasons, and during the lockout to Tel Aviv, where he reconnected with his Jewish heritage.
After he was traded to Atlanta and waived, he signed with Anadolu Efes of the Turkish League and lived in Istanbul, where he marveled at hearing the traditional Muslim call to prayer echo around the city five times a day.
"A lot of people can't say they have that experience in the short lives we live," said Farmar, who shared it with his wife, former UCLA and professional soccer player Jill Oakes, and their first child. The couple added a second daughter a month ago.
Seeing the world has helped Farmar see himself more clearly and recognize what's important.
He followed the Lakers closely, staying up until the wee hours in Europe to watch them on TV. But not until Jackson retired and was replaced — by Mike Brown, who was replaced by Mike D'Antoni — was the situation right for Farmar to return to the Lakers, or for them to want him back. They paid his Turkish team $500,000 to buy out the rest of a contract potentially worth $10 million, and he took a one-year NBA deal for $1.1 million.
To him, it made perfect sense.
"Being a Laker is special to me," he said.
In D'Antoni's point guard-driven, up-tempo offense, Farmar can play to his strengths on the pick-and-roll. He can push the ball and make plays, providing a young, athletic alternative to the aging Steve Nash and last season's backup, Steve Blake.
Playing for D'Antoni, Farmar said, was a motivating factor to give up the money he would have gotten in Turkey.
"I had to just go on and give myself an opportunity, because I think I have a great opportunity for me to contribute a lot and just be kind of what they're looking for," he said.
"At the time when I left, I was a free agent. We had won back-to-back championships and I was 23 years old, so I really wanted a chance to grow and live outside of L.A. and do a few different things in my career. But this time around I felt this is an amazing fit, first and foremost, coming back home and playing for Coach D'Antoni right now and bringing whatever I can bring to the table and help the team. It's just being more prepared to handle what's going to be asked of me."
And no, he said firmly, he has no regrets about leaving.
"Hindsight is 20-20 and you can say if I'd stayed, Phil Jackson quit the next year and it would have been a good opportunity for me. Who knows? At that time I had to make a decision that was right in front of me," Farmar said.
"Phil Jackson was very comfortable with Derek Fisher staying in the role that he had been playing. I just felt at that point, after four years in the NBA and two rings, that my role wasn't going to be changing and I was playing the same role. I needed to give myself a chance to grow, or at least to give myself a shot and see what could happen."
He grew as a person and, he thinks, as a player. He had to focus on defense in Turkey and that can only help a team whose defensive play was too shoddy too often last season.
As for playing time, he said he has gotten no promises and expects none.
"You earn your minutes," he said. "I know what my role is. I know when Steve Nash is off the floor, myself and Steve Blake have the responsibility of picking up the slack and hopefully even playing better.
"A big part of our championship runs was the fact that our bench was so strong. I embrace that role and that job and I look forward to doing it well, and the minutes will be a day-to-day thing."
As long as he's in Los Angeles, in a Lakers uniform, it's all good to Farmar, no matter that many projections for the Lakers' season are bleak. "I think we have a talented group and we're going to be a lot better than people have us down for," he said. "I'm excited to get after it. I couldn't care less what people say."