After a long layoff, Trevor Ariza is getting closer to a return from the preseason ankle surgery that has kept him out for everything but the Lakers’ first training camp practice. But while that’s undoubtedly good news, that doesn’t mean sitting out has been easy in the meantime.
As Ariza spends 5-6 hours a day in the team’s practice facility lifting weights and working on his conditioning to try and get as ready as possible and avoid re-injury in his impending return, the hardest thing for him has been having to watch the team struggle without him while knowing he can help.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Ariza said after the team held just their sixth practice of the season on Monday in an attempt to get the 36-year-old a bit of court time with his teammates ahead of his impending reevaluation. “There are so many things that we can do with a full roster, but again, it’s God’s time. Whenever He decides to allow my body to heal the way that it needs to heal for me to be able to perform at the highest level, I’ll be able to help our team.”
How much Ariza can help this team remains the biggest question. The Lakers feel like the rangy combo forward will give them a player who will allow the team to more fully embrace their small-ball identity, another rebounder who can help them on the glass while still letting Anthony Davis play more center, all while Ariza also spaces the floor and takes the tougher forward defensive assignment from LeBron James. It’s why he was projected as a preseason starter prior to his injury, and over the weekend, Frank Vogel went as far as to say the Lakers couldn’t even fully evaluate their ceiling until Ariza (and Kendrick Nunn, whose prognosis is less rosy) return to the lineup.
In his first time speaking with reporters since the opening day of training camp, Ariza says it has “sucked to have to be out,” but that he understands injuries are a part of sports, and that he’s tried to team up with Rajon Rondo on the sidelines to point out things they see to help their teammates on the floor. He’d rather be out there making those reads, but until he can, he still wants to help the Lakers as much as possible.
It sounds like Ariza does agree with Vogel’s assessment, however, that he can help alter this team’s ceiling, downplaying the Lakers’ struggles because they haven’t had “a full roster yet” and saying that he’s just as confident in this currently 11-11 group as he was back on the day he signed.
“I bring a completely different element to this team, so hopefully when I am able to participate, and Kendrick is able to come back and play — who gives us another different element to this team — the things that we do, the little things that we do can kind of put our team together,” Ariza said. “Throughout my career I’ve been like a piece that you can just plug in and do a bunch of different things and make a difference, so whenever I get on the court that’s what I’m looking to do.”
That may seem like an almost inordinate amount of pressure to put on a veteran who got hurt before camp even started and hasn’t played more than 60 games in two seasons, but Ariza says he’s not feeling any extra stress stemming from his head coach’s belief that he can significantly alter this team’s fortunes.
“I feel like pressure is like a state of mind. I’m just excited to get back on the court when I’m ready to get back on the court. Pressure would be if I’m not prepared. And I feel like I’m prepared for when that time comes,” Ariza said. “I’m in the gym making sure that I’m strong enough to participate at this level, healthy enough and the work that I put in on the court, I’m gonna do that so I don’t feel no pressure.”