The Lakers have made it official: Trevor Ariza is returning home.
Home to play for his former agent, Rob Pelinka. Home to where he played basketball at Westchester High School. Home to where he developed with the UCLA Bruins before the 2004 NBA Draft. Home to where he wore purple and gold while helping Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher and the rest of those Lakers raise the franchise’s 15th banner.
Home to where he belongs.
The Lakers announced the move in a press release on Friday. The team did not disclose the terms of the deal, but it is reportedly for the veteran’s minimum.
The Lakers have officially signed Trevor Ariza. pic.twitter.com/I34fDONls1— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) August 6, 2021
Basketball fit aside for a second, it’s hard not to feel good about this move. Even though the Lakers arguably upgraded by adding Ron Artest/Metta World Peace in 2009 for the same money as Ariza took from the Rockets, and even though the Lakers won the next title, Ariza always had a special place in the hearts of any fans of that absolutely amazing 2009 team that has become so underrated historically. His playoff career-high 47.6% shooting from deep that spring and summer didn’t win the Lakers the title, but it certainly helped.
If you don’t remember Ariza’s game-winning steals from the 2009 Western Conference Finals to help knock off now-teammate Carmelo Anthony’s Denver Nuggets — denying Melo his best ever chance at a ring while helping Bryant cement his fourth — I hope high school is going well for you right now:
But beyond whatever playful ribbing Ariza will give Anthony over those victories from more than a decade prior, the other way that series will impact this team is that the Lakers now have multiple players now who participated in the 2009 NBA Playoffs. From Anthony and Ariza, to LeBron James and Dwight Howard, this is a very old roster, and none of those veterans have shown more signs of their advancing years than Ariza did last season.
In his age 35 season with the Miami Heat, Ariza shot 41.1% from the field and 35% from three while playing primarily (96% of his minutes) at power forward, according to Basketball-Reference. Ariza also posted the worst VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) and box plus-minus of his career, all in the fewest minutes he’s played since the 2007-08 season (when he was hurt) and fewest games (30) of his entire career. His playoffs went even worse, but still, some other numbers paint the picture of a still-effective, wily vet:
Trevor Ariza is a darn effective defender.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) August 2, 2021
He'll take on elite matchup difficulty and is an elite versatility defender.
The Lakers added a real Wing Stopper.@The_BBall_Index Leaderboards tool: https://t.co/d5UxZrtDtT pic.twitter.com/zsR2KSIwxD
Here's a look at players in our Wing Stopper defensive role last season, min 750 minutes.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) August 3, 2021
Y-Axis: Matchup Difficulty
X-Axis: Defensive Impact (via D-LEBRON)
Ariza is exactly where you want him to be on this chart.
Data from @The_BBall_Index pic.twitter.com/8ccyFVZq2f
Trevor Ariza is a crazy versatile defender, pt. 2— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) August 5, 2021
Up-Down: % of time guarding Shot Creators
Left-Right: % of time guarding Versatile Bigs
Dot Size = Defensive impact (via D-LEBRON)
Dot Color = Defensive Role
Okay now THIS is my new favorite app.https://t.co/LT6G2LuaQP pic.twitter.com/hOxSpBv2M9
So could Ariza be in the middle of a decline from his prime? Yes, but at 36 years old, it would be weird if he wasn’t. Not everyone can be LeBron James. There is also reason to believe that the Lakers aren’t planning for him to play a gigantic role as he chases one more ring.
Ariza signed with the Lakers on day one of free agency when the team had a mostly empty roster, usually not when veteran role players who are hoping for a huge role ink their deals. For evidence, look no further than last year, when the Lakers signed Wesley Matthews — who was in and out of the rotation all year — as their first deal of free agency to chase a ring. The year prior, it was Troy Daniels, who barely played before getting waived. This year, it was... Ariza, who signed three minutes before fellow veteran Wayne Ellington.
Now, correlation does not equal causation, but right now Ariza could end up anywhere from a fifth starter to the 11th-12th man in the rotation, depending on how the Lakers fill out their three remaining open roster spots and how he and other guys looks in training camp. Once the team is filled out, we’ll have a better sense of how much he’ll be playing. He could still have use for this team, but they aren’t guaranteed to need him for more minutes than he played last year. Like most of the other old guys on this team, though, he can still play, and they should all be able to help each other play lesser roles than their previous teams asked of them.
And for the veteran’s minimum, that’s totally fine! Every team needs guys who can play limited roles around their stars, and Ariza, despite his advancing age, is likely to get a few chances to show why he’s lasted 17 years in the league, and why he’s still someone a team can count on to play more than a decade after his most memorable playoff run. If he gets to do it all while putting back on the jersey he had his best playoff run in, so much the better. Ariza never got a chance to defend the title, but he will at least get one more opportunity to try and contribute to another one, and maybe, just maybe, cement himself as a legendary Lakers role player in two different decades.