Back in 2007, the Lakers made what at the time seemed like a minor trade with the Orlando Magic. Essentially a two-for-one swap, Los Angeles sent Brian Cook and Maurice Evans to the Magic in exchange for a young — and under-utilized — wing named Trevor Ariza.
Ariza not only shored up the Lakers’ perimeter depth and defense with his lanky range, but was also the first domino to fall in helping reshape a questionable roster built around Kobe Bryant.
Ariza didn’t contribute right away, but a few months later, the team made another pivotal trade when they acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. Both Ariza and Gasol turned out to be vital contributors in what would eventually be a championship-winning squad the following season in 2009.
Flash-forward to current day Los Angeles. LeBron James and the Lakers have suddenly turned their season around after a poor start, and are inching closer to the top of the Western Conference standings.
Despite the team’s aforementioned recent stretch of solid play, it seems the front office is not content to sit on their hands when a chance of improving the roster presents itself. Seemingly, that opportunity is here.
In the past few days, rumors of a possible Ariza/Lakers’ reunion have begun spouting up.
The player linked in a theoretical deal has been Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who Shams Charania of The Athletic, revealed multiple teams are interested in acquiring.
While still simply smoke at this stage, an Ariza return to Los Angeles could potentially be beneficial in several regards if it comes to pass.
One of the biggest hesitations with swapping Caldwell-Pope and Ariza at the moment is if it would merely be a lateral move for the Lakers, and if the team would need an additional asset to make happen.
Although starting the season slow, Caldwell-Pope and his jumper have been noticeably better of late, whereas Ariza has seemingly begun to show signs of rust in the Arizona desert.
The 33-year-old has shot only 37.9 percent from the field and 36 percent from three in 26 games with the Suns after signing a hefty one-year deal worth $15 million in the offseason.
Despite Ariza’s poor production thus far, there is also the curious variable of how much his play has been impacted by playing for the worst team in the Western Conference.
Ariza has seen nearly every boxscore statistic and his general effectiveness dip this season compared to his solid numbers with Houston the past few years. While age may in fact be a contributor to this inefficiency and effort level, the role of environment is hard to ignore.
The Lakers saw this shift first-hand when they acquired Tyson Chandler after he was bought out of his contract with these very same Suns.
Chandler looked every bit of his age as he plodded up and down the court with Phoenix. Yet, since joining the Lakers the 36-year-old has continued to look surprisingly spry, and has been a huge part of the team’s defensive turnaround.
Whether the same turnaround would occur with Ariza is unknown, but there are still indicators that the move would be worth the relatively low risk of Caldwell-Pope and an ancillary asset.
For one, while he might only boast league-average efficiency from deep, Ariza still remains a stellar catch-and-shoot threat. On his 106 non-dribble 3-point attempts with Phoenix thus far, Ariza has converted at a 38.7 percent clip. With six or more feet of space (wide open) Ariza has been near automatic, draining his threes at a 48.4 percent clip.
To compare, Caldwell-Pope has made his catch-and-shoot opportunities at a 35.1 percent rate this season, and 39 percent when left wide open.
As a team, the Lakers would happily welcome this contribution, as they are currently only 24th in the league in catch-and-shoot efficiency from three (34.6 percent), according to Second Spectrum.
With a player with LeBron James’ level of gravity, having multiple players who can consistently space the floor has been historically crucial. The Lakers prioritized playmaking over shooting this summer, and have seen the results on their offense.
Those big benefits aside, though, potentially the biggest draw for swinging a deal for the former Laker is his defensive versatility.
In his short stint with the Suns so far, Ariza has looked a step slower and has not given the effort the basketball community is accustomed to seeing from him. Again, while simple regression due to age could be in play, the drastic drop off in his defensive real-plus-minus could indicate there is more at hand.
As of the last metric update, Ariza is 84th of 88 small forwards in DRPM, a far cry from his 14th ranking last season.
It is difficult to believe his effectiveness could be so drastically different after being only a year. If the Lakers make a move for Ariza, they’ll be banking that Ariza hasn’t actually regressed that much.
Ariza will also automatically fill one of the Lakers’ current needs on the roster, size on the perimeter. Standing at 6’8” and sporting a 7’2” wingspan, Ariza would be a noticeable size upgrade over the team’s two current wing defenders Josh Hart and Caldwell-Pope, who are both 6’5.”
The team has relied on the aforementioned names in Brandon Ingram’s absence, which has resulted in rough outcomes. In the last few games, the Lakers’ defense have given up 36 points to DeMar DeRozan and most recently, 50 to Ariza’s former teammate, James Harden.
Although the likes of Hart and Caldwell-Pope have been sound defensively in Ingram’s absence, they are more susceptible to their opponents shooting over the top of their contests. If nothing else, Ariza would likely make an immediate impact in individual and switch matchups.
Obtaining Ariza now also potentially lays the groundwork of a potential return next season if both parties are pleased.
Like Ariza, Caldwell-Pope is on an expiring deal, and considering his age and reported appeal around the league, he would almost certainly look to sign a multi-year deal outside of Los Angeles given their current objective to sign another star in the summer.
So with Caldwell-Pope likely not in the cards past this season, it is worth a shot in replacing him with Ariza now, not only for the aforementioned on-court reasons, but because of the better likelihood of re-signing the veteran on a cheaper “chase a ring” type deal in the summer.
Ariza and the Lakers ultimately makes a lot of sense for both camps.
While any potential deal can not be agreed upon until December 15th, when trade restrictions on players signed over the summer become lifted, it seems like both sides are working towards making this reunion happen.
If history has shown anything it’s that the moves on the margins could potentially be the most crucial in opening the floodgates towards real title contention. Ariza won’t singlehandedly vault the Lakers there, but here’s hoping his potential sequel with Los Angeles will be as good as the original.