When Trevor Ariza came up with big play after big play in the 2009 playoffs to help the Lakers capture an NBA title, he instantly became a fan favorite. A former UCLA product, Ariza found his way to Los Angeles via trade after a roller coaster start to his career and quickly established himself as a vital 3-and-D player.
Ariza's time in California, though, was short-lived as the Lakers opted for Ron Artest over Ariza in free agency the following offseason. Still, a sense of “what-if” always existed amongst Laker fans as Ariza’s career blossomed in Washington and Houston. Finally, entering his 18th year in the league, Ariza returned this summer to Los Angeles and to the franchise he helped win a title some 12 years ago.
“Well, being here has always been something that I’ve wanted,” Ariza said in his introductory press conference on Friday. “To be honest, there were only two places that I actually wanted to be, Miami being one, and L.A. being the other. But to be able to come back home, be with my family, be a part of this tradition is something that you don’t really get too many chances to do it twice.
“So when the opportunity presented itself and it was real I think it was the best opportunity and chance for me to come home, and I’m excited. I’m happy. I wanted to be here, I’m excited to play with all the players and to see what this team can do. Like you said, we’ve all played for a long time, we’ve all done things that are pretty amazing by just being in the NBA for this long, so to just see those minds come together and all these talents come together, I think that’s going to be amazing.”
While the reunion didn’t come for over a decade, rumors and reports linking the player and team have persisted throughout the years. Particularly late in his career where he’s been a seemingly perpetual buyout candidate, the Lakers have often had a rumored interest, most recently prior to the starting of the 2020-21 season.
“There’s been a couple of times where it could have been a possibility, and it didn’t work out that,” Ariza said of returning to the Lakers. “So I figure it just wasn’t the right time. But everything finds itself when the time is right, and apparently this is the right time for me to be here with this group. So I can’t really worry about if it didn’t happen before. The fact is that it happened now and I’m just ready to get it started.”
On top of the timing being right this time around, Ariza had multiple people in his ear recruiting him. Russell Westbrook was barely a Laker before he recruited his fellow UCLA product to the team, but it was another set of voices that were the loudest.
“I think the biggest recruiter, if you want me to be honest, was my children,” Ariza said. “My children being here for the past three years without traveling because I’ve been moving around so much, they were ready for me to come home, ready for me to be home and I wanted to be home with them.”
Ariza is not the player he was in 2009, but he’s still a valuable commodity in different ways for the Lakers. The timing was right, the situation was right and, hopefully, the result will mirror his last season in Los Angeles a dozen years ago.