Seen internally as one of the pieces that will unlock the Lakers’ full potential this season, Trevor Ariza being out all season so far has been felt more than any of the other absences from role players, even during a year filled with injuries so far. Ariza lasted just one day in camp before discomfort in his ankle eventually led to a procedure that was set to keep him out for eight weeks before being re-evaluated.
With that original timeline closing in next week and Ariza’s activity ramping up prior to games, both head coach Frank Vogel and Ariza himself spoke to the media after practice on Monday prior to the team’s trip to Sacramento on Tuesday.
The former noted that while Ariza was indeed getting closer to a return, he was still “a ways away” — his go-to phrase to describe non-specifically describe injury timelines this season for the purple and gold — from making his season debut.
“I don’t think we’re putting a timetable on it,” Vogel said, “but he’s getting closer and we’re hopeful to get him back as soon as possible. We feel like he’s going to be a real key to unlocking this team’s identity, with the ability to play Anthony (Davis) at the 5 more and have him (Ariza) sort of guard the other team’s best 3/4, and Bron plays off of that, and that’s just something we’ve not had in terms of how this year’s roster was put together.
“He was a big piece of it, and we hope to get him back as soon as we can.”
It’s hard to imagine a team sporting both LeBron James and Anthony Davis could view the forward position as a weakness, but due to the aforementioned injuries, it has been one of the most shallow positions on the roster. Pair that with Ariza’s ability to be a 3-and-D wing that can play up a position in the post, rebound well and guard bigger players as a 4, and his importance to this Lakers team becomes more and more apparent, as does the lasting impact of his absence.
But while Ariza might be “a ways away” from his return, that’s an obviously relative term, as Vogel said the team was still operating within the same eight-week reevaluation timetable originally given. That timetable would mean Ariza may get looked at again as early as Thursday, which would be exactly eight weeks from the team announcing the procedure to his ankle.
“Hopefully we’ll have a more firm update,” Vogel said. “I don’t have it right now. But he is getting closer, so we’re within what that original timeframe looked like in terms of reevaluation.”
Ariza gave details on how his rehab has looked, which has included 5-6 hours daily in the Lakers facility lifting weights and doing conditioning work on bikes, altered-gravity treadmills and pool workouts as the veteran forward has remained focused on not re-injuring himself as he increases his activity.
“I’ve been as of late just starting to run on my own,” Ariza said. “Been on the court shooting, going through movements that I will probably have to get used to doing again. Conditioning, sprinting, shooting, a whole lot of that.”
It’s been part of the slow process of his return, one that feels all the slower given his level of importance to this Lakers team.
“I don’t have like a definite date or anything like that,” Ariza said. “It’s all when the doctors clear (me) or on the way my body feels and responds to more work. That’s kind of gauge on when I’ll be able to be out there safely.”
The good news is that return is getting closer and closer, even if a date can’t yet be circled on the calendar. For Ariza, the Lakers and the fan base, it’ll be a long-awaited and welcome return to the purple and gold once he is finally able to step back on the court.