On June 14th 2009, the world was a beautiful place for Miami born Trevor Ariza. On that warm night in Orlando, Ariza’s defense in the second quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Finals was partly responsible for a 16-0 Lakers run. The run changed a deficit into a halftime ten point lead from which the Lakers would never look back. Ariza would win his first (and only) NBA title. He would celebrate. He would taste champagne. He would bask in the generous adoration that befalls all champions.
June 14th wasn’t time to talk money or that Ariza was a free agent to be in a couple of weeks. What was there to talk about anyway? He showed the Lakers his true worth. They traded for him from this very place, Orlando, and in Los Angeles, despite the incessantly overwhelming coverage, Ariza was superlative.
And so, for Trevor Ariza, his life had come full circle. The Magic hadn’t wanted him, were happy to exchange him for forward Brian Cook who had a spotty career once he landed in Orlando while Ariza had to adjust to Kobe Bryant. When he did his game and confidence took off. He was a beloved member of a now champion team with a specific role as a shot maker and defender. All he needed now was to be paid what he was worth.
You know how this story ends. Or, if you don’t know you should. The world of capitalistic desires revolves less around what you are worth and more to the point of supply and demand. Ariza wasn’t the first athlete to overvalue his contribution as a significant role player on a championship team.
Trevor Ariza was not paid what he was worth, at least not by the Lakers, despite averaging 41.7% from three, 11 points and 6 rebounds in the Finals. The Lakers signed defender Ron Artest instead and Ariza went to the Rockets. In essence, Artest and Ariza changed teams. But while Artest became a champion the next year, Trevor Ariza’s career has taken him to New Orleans, D.C. and back to Houston.
“You learn it’s cutthroat. It doesn’t always go the way you want it to”, Ariza said of the negotiation break down with the Lakers.
According to published reports, Ariza wanted between $7 and $8 million and the Lakers were interested in paying him $5.8 million. The Lakers offered that same amount to Ron Artest who took it in a sprinter’s hurry, leaving Ariza blindsided. Of the turn of events Ariza said, “of course I was upset.”
What happened to Ariza was a cautionary tale for talented role players who don’t think they can be replaced until they are replaced. To be fair to the truth of the story, Dr. Jerry Buss had long coveted Ron Artest so when Ariza was hesitant about the offer Buss felt emboldened and licensed to give the same deal to Artest with no regrets.
In a lot of ways Ariza is a NBA success story. He entered the draft after a year at UCLA and was a second round pick, number 43. That far down in the talent pool, he wasn’t supposed to achieve. Ariza’s draft was the Dwight Howard draft. Ariza is still playing in the NBA while 8 of the lottery picks in the 2004 draft are not (Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Josh Childress, Rafael Arujo, Luke Jackson, Andris Biedrins, Robert Swift, Sebastian Telfair). In the NBA, a long career is a successful career. Anything past five years is gravy. Ariza has been at it for 13 years.
Drafted by the Knicks, Ariza had a humbling experience playing for Larry Brown whose coaching philosophy was to tear players down before building them up but it wrecked Ariza’s confidence. He was traded to the Magic and then the Lakers, which was a Xmas present come early, November of 2007.
The Lakers didn’t define Ariza, though his name was on the map because anything in the Kobe Bryant area code was high visibility. Ariza had some very good years after winning the title. In 2013-14, playing for the Wizards, he shot 45.6% and 40.7% from three. He added nearly seven rebounds to a 14.4 point average and a career high PER of 15.8. But the Wizards weren’t contenders and they lost to the Pacers in six games in the second round of the playoffs.
The last time Ariza has been on a team with a real shot to win the title since his Lakers experience is right now. He has a career high 118 offensive rating. His 105 defensive rating is not far off a career best 102 the year he won the title.
In D’Antoni’s offense, Ariza hasn’t topped those Wizards numbers of three seasons ago but he is taking more three point shots and making more three point shots than he ever has.
The worst part of his offensive game is long twos; he is shooting 28.6% from that distance. He is making 39.1% of catch and shoot jumpers and 25.9% of pull up jumpers. He is the 8th best defensive small forward in the NBA (Defensive Real Plus-Minus) and the 6th best small forward (Real Plus-Minus). Last year, in both categories, he was ranked 40th and 20th respectively.
Although this isn’t a comeback year for Ariza, it is a year that he reminds everyone he is ready to repeat as champion and bring that long awaited title to the Rockets.
It has taken Trevor Ariza seven seasons to return to contender status and play for a title. It’s not that he is back. Trevor Ariza never went anywhere. It’s more salient to say he is where he belongs and with the team and the coaching staff he belongs with.
photo via llananba