Former Westchester star may have found home at last
Just one look at Trevor Ariza on a basketball court and it becomes evident quite quickly. He has long flexible arms, gliding range of motion and an instinctive feel for the game that just can’t be taught.
Why then, you might ask, has this kid been traded to three teams in as many years in the league?
The answers vary. Drafted in the second round by the Knicks, he was the youngest rookie in the franchise history and earned spot playing time on a roster filled with maxed out veterans.
Because the Knicks were maxed out in salary they could not afford to keep him so they shipped him off to Orlando.
Thrilled with what they got from the Knicks on the cheap the Magic immediately extended his contract and gave him a raise to $4 million, which is pittance by NBA salary standards.
Again, he played sparingly with a young Magic team on the cusp of having a break out season and then they brought in a new coach and signed sharp shooting wing Rashard Lewis to a long-term contract.
Ariza, as potentially gifted as he might become, was the odd man out again and was pursued heavily by the Golden State Warriors until the Lakers decided to unload Brian Cook and Maurice Evans in a two-for-one deal.
The fact that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak would invest two players who contributed significant minutes to the club speaks volumes of the Florida-born Ariza.
Ariza came to Los Angeles from the Sunshine State and enrolled at Westchester High School, a city basketball power that annually competes for the City and state championships.
However, he did not mushroom into a potential star until his junior year for the Comets when he helped lead the team to the Division I state championship.
Major colleges such as national champion Florida came calling and then UCLA, under then coach Steve Lavin, offered a scholarship to Ariza.
Torn between wanting to go back home and staying in his new adopted home of Los Angeles was a tough decision for Ariza who eventually signed with UCLA.
Lavin was fired before Ariza got to UCLA but he still honored his scholarship and enjoyed a solid, albeit not spectacular, season under first year coach Ben Howland.
Surprisingly to everyone except Ariza, he decided to opt for the NBA draft after his freshman season on a team that won just 11 games.
Skeptics said that he was making a grave mistake and would never be drafted, but the Knicks, without a first round pick, took a gamble.
Knicks general manager, Isaiah Thomas, said at the time they drafted the best player available and would have chosen him if they had a pick in the first round.
Ariza wishes he was selected in the first round, but as it has worked out has a guaranteed contract anyway and now all he’s yearning for is an opportunity to play.
“I just need a chance and that’s all I want is an opportunity,” he said.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson gave him 26 minutes against Golden State on Dec. 9 and Ariza responded with an 11-point, four rebound performance.
Tall at 6’8 and athletic enough to guard three positions on the court, he is as responsible as many for the Lakers emergence in the Pacific Division, and as he grows so too will the Lakers chances of being competitive in the playoffs again.
In six games he scored 36 points, had nine assists, nine blocks, five steals and 14 turnovers.
It’s quite early and a lot of basketball is left to be played, but while everyone was clinging to the hope the Lakers would not trade Kobe Bryant, they slept on the help the Lakers got for Bryant and in Ariza it could be just what the doctor ordered.