After agreeing to a trade for Russell Westbrook on draft day, the Lakers entered free agency with a slew of open roster and rotation spots that needed filling. And while free agency started with a whir that saw the Lakers sitting things out (their limited spending power had a lot to do with it), within a few hours, we got our first piece of news. The Lakers were signing Trevor Ariza, most recently of the Miami Heat:
Lakers fans are, of course, very familiar with Ariza after he won a title with the team over a decade ago when the Kobe/Pau led team beat the Orlando Magic back in 2009. A year later, in a contract spat that saw then GM Mitch Kupchak play hard ball and draw a line in the sand with a starting salary starting at the mid-level exception, Ariza left for the Rockets and the Lakers signed Ron Artest in his spot. Lakers fans have missed Ariza ever since, even while loving the toughness Ron brought in helping the team beat the Celtics for the championship.
Again, though, that was over a decade ago. And, since then, Ariza has played for many a team, essentially touring the league as a 3-and-D wing who was either chasing another chance at a title or collecting a big paycheck (or both). It hasn’t really worked out for our guy, though, with his best shot at another ring falling just short as a member of the Harden/Chris Paul Rockets who couldn’t get past the juggernaut Warriors.
So now, Ariza is back, an older, less athletic, player than the one who flanked Kobe all those years ago. Much more of a combo forward now than a pure SF, Ariza can defend the wing against more perimeter bound SF’s and PF’s, but is no longer the guy you can put on shiftier SG’s or PG’s and ask him to get a stop. He’s more stout and stronger now, but gone is the blazing quickness and ranginess that he leveraged so well the last time he donned a Lakers uni.
With his added strength, he can switch more and can hold up some when taken down into the post, but it’s not something you want him doing a lot nor something you’d consider a true strength of his. You’d much rather have him making his standard rotations and using his combination of length and smarts to stay in front of his man and play fundamental defense with a level of toughness and attention to detail you expect from a veteran player.
On the other side of the ball, Ariza is almost only a spot up option now, and almost totally reliant on the 3-ball as a scorer. Nearly five of his eight field goal attempts for the Heat came from behind the arc and his FT rate was the lowest of his non-Houston years in the NBA. Said another way, Ariza isn’t someone who can fill the lane for you in transition or attack closeouts all that well anymore. He’s mostly just going to take open 3’s, hit them at about a league average rate, and move the ball if he’s not open.
In the big picture, then, this is a perfectly reasonable signing for what is, presumably, a minimum deal. Ariza can be a bench combo forward who can play next to any combination of the Lakers 3-stars and fit in seamlessly. He can defend the wing or stretch forward option that LeBron doesn’t, can play a stretch PF role next to AD when LeBron sits, and can eat on kickout passes or swing-swing 3’s on Russ drives, Bron/AD or Russ/AD P&R’s, or out of Bron/AD post ups.
Do I wish he was a little younger? Yes. Do I wish he had more juice in his legs? Yes. Do I wish he was a more consistent shooter or had even more defensive versatility than he does at this stage of his career? Yes, yes. Thing is, if he was any of those things, he’d likely not be available for the minimum and we’d not be having this conversation in the first place. So, the Lakers got a viable role player who can play a couple of shifts a night or split a rotation spot with another combo forward as the Lakers continue to shop in the free agent bargain bin.
Is bringing back Trevor Ariza some world shattering move? It’s not, no. But as a solid contributor who also offers some nostalgia while being someone who has clear big game experience and success in deep playoff runs, I’ll take it. Welcome back, Trevor. Lakers fans missed you.