dEDGE Post Scriptum
Standing 6’8″ and tipping the scales at an even 210 lbs. (after lunch), Trevor Ariza of the Los Angeles Lakers has quickly filled the team’s highlight reels with his spectacular dunks and astounding defensive plays. Continuing with his penchant for quick, athletic and rangy players, Mitch Kupchak struck gold with the 2007 mid-season acquisition of Ariza from Orlando in exchange for SG Maurice Evans and seldom used F Brian Cook. Ariza provided Lakers fans with an immediate impact, showcasing his defensive prowess as well as his uncanny ability to chase down loose balls. His offensive output was simply gravy at the time, although he surprised many with his dunking abilities. We now had a defender who could help spell Kobe Bryant, who would always defend the opponent’s best offensive player. But a foot injury limited his time on the court and although we quickly fell in love with him, we didn’t have enough time to really get to know him.
Losing to Boston in the Finals, and the way we did, being pushed around and punked, was attributed to our softness and the loss of Andrew Bynum earlier in the season. Going unnoticed was a still recovering Trevor Ariza who could have put the clamps on Paul Pierce, or at least contained Ray Allen from hitting his series changing last second jumper at Staples Center in Game 4. His play in the final game in Boston was erratic at best, as he was still not fully into game shape from his long layoff. In that game, the Lakers were torched by 39 points and Boston claimed the title. Over the offseason, Ariza concentrated on his outside shot so that defenders could not lay off of him and clog up the middle. His efforts have payed wonderful dividends as Ariza stretched defenses with his newfound range from behind the arc. And if the defense ran out to him, he still had the explosive first step and subsequent lift-off to the rim. He started the season as part of the Bench Mob, and in fact, he was often the first player Phil Jackson summoned. His stellar play had everyone convinced that he should be starting, and finally, even then-starter, Luke Walton, asked Jackson to insert Ariza into the line-up.
Hailing from Westchester High School and a single season at UCLA, Ariza fled to the bright lights and fame of the NBA. To most observers, Ariza was a gamble with a suspect offensive game. I must admit that I fell into this category, thinking this young man had just lost his mind after marginal success as a Bruin. My sights were set for his breakout sophomore season and a shot at the NCAA crown alongside incoming freshmen, Jordan Farmar and Aaron Afflalo. Instead, Ariza was selected 47th overall in the second round by the New York Knicks. He spent a season and a half in NYC with limited success under coach Herb Williams and then Larry Brown. Midway through his second season, Ariza was traded to Orlando along with an aging Penny Hardaway in exchange for Steve Francis. Ariza joined a talented, young cast that included budding superstar Dwight Howard and a finally healthy, Grant Hill. Ariza signed a new contract with Orlando and finally appeared set as his role and minutes increased. But a logjam at the forward position the following season ultimately made Ariza expendable.
Ariza’s return to Los Angeles was met with indifference amongst the Lakers faithful. But his hustle and nose for the ball quickly made him a fan favorite. With his added range and comfort with the intricate triangle offense now under his belt, Trevor has posted career numbers while participating in all 82 games this season. His playoff career high 21 points in Game 1 against the Utah Jazz provided a huge lift to the team as Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom were entrenched in the midst of foul plagued, subpar performances. But Trevor’s biggest asset remains his defense. He effectively shut down the Jazz’s sharpshooter, Kyle Korver, limiting his shot attempts and shadowing him everywhere on the court. He has become one of the Lakers most consistent and versatile defenders, and with his length and speed, has warranted comparisons to defensive specialist, Michael Cooper. Trevor finds himself in the midst of a contract year, yet he remains focused on the success of the team and not on himself. He wishes to remain a Laker and will wait until the end of the season before shifting his focus to his contract status. By all indications, Trevor Ariza will be resigned in the offseason. And everything else is gravy.