We’ve talked finances. We’ve talked Lamar Odom. And despite these being very specific topics, Trevor Ariza is the guy whose name has come up in both of these conversations. This is a testament to his incredible importance to our team’s success and his tremendous contributions to our championship season. Yes, we are Kobe’s team. Yes, Pau Gasol has proven himself as an all world player. And yes, Odom has the versatility and Bynum is the future. But, no player has grown on us quite like Ariza. The hustle, the dunks, the steals, the unassuming way that he goes about his business while always competing hard are all ways that he has inserted himself into the portrait of our team. If I took a poll and asked “Do you want Trevor Ariza to remain a Los Angeles Laker?”, 100% of the answers to that poll would be a resounding YES. We love this guy.
And what’s not to love? Over the course of this past season, no player has developed as much as Trevor. He went from bench player to key starter. From a slasher and fast break finisher to one of our most reliable three point shooters. From a guy that was a terror mostly in the passing lanes to the man that played inside Hedo Turkoglu’s jersey for twenty quarters of Finals basketball. From a player who would consistently defer to one who would not hesitate in taking and making the big shots. We’ve seen the evolution of a player and we couldn’t be more excited about it. I mean, by the time our playoff run was over, he would have easily been mentioned as our third or fourth most important player – trailing only Kobe and Gasol and in a virtual tie with Odom.
And while he did hit some very important shots, he primarily achieved this status as our most relied upon wing defensive player. During our playoff run, he earned his stripes against some of the most difficult covers in the playoffs. Starting in the second round, Ariza spent significant time guarding Ron Artest, then Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, and then (the aforementioned) Hedo Turkoglu. All of these players are (or at least were at the time we played them) the primary offensive weapons and/or initiators for their teams. Look at that list again. Bruising/All court small forwards, a top ten point guard in the NBA, and a point forward that plays the P&R better than almost any other ball handling forward in the league. Without his efforts to slow or contain these players we don’t win a title. Especially when you consider that his ability to cover these players (even if some were only on a part time basis) allowed Kobe not to have to guard these guys for entire games/series (ala Paul Pierce in last years Finals). And Ariza did it all without ever patting himself on the back or showing any hints of ego. He put his head down and played hard. That’s the type of player that every championship team needs.
Plus, not once did he wilt or show any anxiety or fear. I’ll let Reed explain:
Ariza, perhaps above everyone else, proved ready to join Kobe and embrace playoff pressure. He made so many game/series-changing and saving plays that just aren’t captured in a box score. He did not ever look scared. He has a huge ceiling, is so young, and has proven willing to put in the work necessary to improve his skill set.
But therein lies the rub with Trevor – he appears to be an unfinished product. So, despite his strong regular season and even better playoffs, there are still question marks with him. Not negatives, mind you, just questions. More Reed:
But do we know for sure he’s as good as we think? What if the playoff three point shooting was a bit of a blip? Do we overstate his great playoff moments and understate the games where he made no impact? Are we tempted to ovepay off of a small track record like we were with Sasha, Luke, etc.? Is he going to evolve into a Battier, a Prince, a Gerald Wallace, better? Who is a good model and what does he need to do to keep improving (I’d say work on his ballhandling and midrange game — so often he gets chased off the 3 and ends up with some awkward floater in the lane). Could he develop into a consistent scoring option — one that’s not dependent on really open looks? Is he more or less replaceable than Odom, both in terms of skills and mindset? These are all open questions that spring to mind, not arguments. I personally strongly believe in Ariza. He’s shown me flashes of extreme potential and a willingness to get better.
Just like Reed, I don’t see these questions as negatives or as arguments against Trevor - just things that are still unknown. And just like Reed, I have a very strong belief in Trevor and his future development. But these are questions that should be asked. And these open questions are ones that start to speak to his value. Not as a player and his role to this team, I think that’s established – he’s a vital contributor who is clearly a major part of our success. But his value in terms of the salary that he earns. All that said, I’m not going to talk numbers right now. There are too many unknown variables (Buss’ want to keep this current group together balanced against his spending limit, market values that won’t be determined by the Lakers, the value that the player/agent have in mind, team profit margins, etc) for me to speculate on anything related to the finances in retaining Ariza. As I said in a previous post, it’s not my money and I don’t write the checks.
So, I can’t speak to what salary he’s earned for his next contract. I can only say that he’s earned the right to stay with the team. And after the stints of players like Kwame Brown, Smush Parker, Brian Cook, etc, etc that we’ve seen over the years (as an aside – watch out Sasha, you could join this list), I think it bears repeating: Trevor Ariza has earned the right to remain a Laker. He’s improved his game to the point that he’s already the ideal Triangle small forward, and nearly the perfect one. He’s a defensive minded player that has shown he can shoot the three ball all while being mentally tough. He meshes well with Kobe and Gasol, moves well off the ball, and has shown a high basketball IQ in picking up our sets on both offense and defense. If he makes some small improvements to his game (like the ones Reed mentioned, plus getting a bit more comfortable posting up), he’ll be a true force on a perennial contender. Everyone knows my bias towards Lamar. But, I’m just as fond of Ariza. I think (along with Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, and Odom) he’s one of our best five players. And just as I’ve said about LO, we need this player. After all the growth we’ve seen from Trevor, it’d be a shame to see him truly blossom with another team. I understand that there are aspects to retaining Ariza that are out of the teams control. I also understand the financial implications to keeping both of Ariza and Odom. But, in the end, I think this team deserves the chance to defend it’s title. In a way, I’d feel cheated if we didn’t get to make at least one more run with this entire group in tact. I can only hope the front office and ownership group feel the same way.