NBA veteran Trevor Ariza ready for any role to help young Kings win

NBA veteran Trevor Ariza ready for any role to help young Kings win

Last season, the Kings walked into game one without a natural starter at the small forward position. Shooting guard Buddy Hield opened the year at the wing position, with De’Aaron Fox and Yogi Ferrell getting the start in the backcourt.

Vlade Divac added a major piece in Harrison Barnes at the trade deadline and then bolstered the small forward spot with veteran Trevor Ariza during his free-agent spending spree.

A proven NBA starter, Ariza signed with the Kings with the understanding that he might not come close to the 34 minutes per game he averaged last season between the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards.

“As a player, as a competitor, you always believe you can compete at any level, against anybody and I’m one of those players that feels that way,” Ariza told NBC Sports California. “But I also understand that this is a team sport and a team game and whatever works best for the team is the road that you have to play.”

The Kings didn’t have a single-player average 34 minutes per game last season, although Barnes came close. Unfortunately for Ariza, the two play the same position, which means something has to give.

“I believe I’m a team player and whatever role is asked of me, that’s what I’ll try to do to the best of my ability,” Ariza added.

Barnes, 27, can play both forward positions, but there is a log jam at the four as well with second-year phenom Marvin Bagley needing major time. Walton will have some tough decisions to make on a nightly basis as he doles out time.

While minutes are at a premium, shots won’t be. With the Kings’ pace of play, there are opportunities for anyone and everyone to fire away. Ariza has been a low usage rate player throughout his career and he’s averaged over 12 shots per game in a season just once in his 15 years in the league.

“My whole career has never been about how many shots I get or how long I’m on the court, it’s about how I can help the team win,” Ariza said. “If I can help the team win, whatever it is, I will try to do it.”

That is music to the Kings’ ears. Mired in a 13-year playoff drought, they need all hands on deck if they hope to improve on their 39-43 record from last season. Ariza will be asked to play reserve minutes, but will also use his decade and a half of NBA knowledge to work with the team’s younger players.

Two seasons ago, Ariza was a starting forward on a 65-win Houston Rockets team. Now he’s projected as a backup on an up and coming Kings squad.

“The main reason I chose Sacramento is because it’s closer to home for me, I’m familiar with the coaching staff and I believe in what Luke (Walton) has to offer and what he’s doing,” Ariza said.

Raised in Los Angeles, Ariza is just a short plane ride from home. While he’s never played for Walton, he did suit up alongside him with the Lakers during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons. Walton isn’t Ariza’s only connection to the team’s coaching staff.

Ariza opened last season as the starting small forward for the Suns under head coach Igor Kokoskov, who is now the lead assistant in Sacramento. He’s also trained with Rico Hines, one of the Kings’ player development coaches since he was 18. 

[RELATED: Kings' Barnes already has leg up on Walton's defense]

The Kings invested heavily in Ariza, handing the 34-year-old a two-year, $25 million contract. Only the first season is guaranteed at $12.2 million with a $1.8 million team buyout for year two.

While it’s a lot to spend on a player a few years north of 30, Ariza has a wealth of experience to offer the Kings’ young core and he proved last year with his play that age is just a number.

Harrison Barnes, Kings want chance to make NBA playoffs upon restart

Harrison Barnes, Kings want chance to make NBA playoffs upon restart

When the global coronavirus pandemic shut down the 2019-20 NBA season back in March, the Kings were 28-36. Not the prettiest record.

But Luke Walton's team was making progress. They had won seven of the last 10 games, and were 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 playoff seed in the Western Conference.

Now, with the NBA nearing a return-to-play plan, the question becomes: Will the Kings get a chance to compete for that final playoff spot or will the league move forward with the current 16 playoff teams?

"For us, we're kind of in a tough situation because we're on the fringe," Kings forward Harrison Barnes told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck on the "Full 48" podcast. "So in all these scenarios that are coming about, we're kind of that unique case where 'Well, do they get the play-in tournament? Do they get the five games? Since they're three games out, do they just go with playoff teams?' So you just try to stay in shape, stay ready, but you know whatever decision comes about, it's going to be made with everybody in mind, but not everyone's going to be able to be comfortable with that solution. Someone's going to get the short end of that stick, and we hope to have the opportunity to play."

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

One rumored scenario would see all teams returning and playing a few regular-season games before the playoffs start. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard opposed that idea last week because he doesn't feel his team would get a true shot at making the playoffs. He would prefer the Kings, Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs compete with Grizzlies in a play-in tournament to determine the playoff seed.

"I think Dame is right," Barnes told Beck. "I mean, if you come back and play, you want to be playing for something. The risk of traveling, being in Orlando in that type of environment, with any precaution that can be taken, there is a risk in that, so if you're going to be playing, you want to be playing for something. All of us who have been in isolation, we've been training, we've been hoping for this moment. You want to see that rewarded if you can, but if you're going to be in a situation where you do all this training and you come out there for a few games and you're not able to qualify for the playoffs, then it makes sense to probably have playoff teams and go from there."

[RELATED: Kings reportedly to get playoff shot]

Barnes and the Kings are a young team that entered the 2019-20 season with high expectations. But injuries to De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley early in the year set the team back. Now, with everyone healthy, the veteran forward wants to see what the team could do if they were given the chance to compete against the Western Conference bubble teams.

"Our team is a little bit different because we had a lot of injuries throughout the season, and we were starting to hit our stride," Barnes said. "But now we're healthy, so if the opportunity is there for us to play and make the playoffs, we want that opportunity, we want to see where we're at. There's no other simulation we can get for games. This group, where we're at, we need to play, we need to play together, and playing for something is important."

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

NBA rumors: Kings to get playoffs shot in potential Adam Silver plan

NBA rumors: Kings to get playoffs shot in potential Adam Silver plan

The Kings would get a chance to end their 13-year postseason drought in a proposal to restart the NBA season that reportedly is gaining momentum among the league's owners.

Sacramento would be one of 22 teams headed to Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports just outside of Orlando in a plan that has "growing support," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported Friday, citing sources. The Kings would also be included in a 20-team format that "remains alive," sources told ESPN.

Wojnarowski and Shelburne reported that the NBA will vote Thursday on a format to restart the season during a board of governors call. The league requires a three-fourths majority to approve any such plan, and the owners reportedly will vote with whichever format commissioner Adam Silver recommends.

The Kings were in the thick of a playoff chase when the NBA suspended its season on March 11 due to the coronavirus' spread, just 3.5 games back of the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. Sacramento's game that night was supposed to the be the last before the league indefinitely shut its doors, but the New Orleans Pelicans -- the Kings' opponents that night -- were reluctant to take the court once they learned referee Courtney Kirkland had recently worked a Utah Jazz game. Jazz center Rudy Gobert's positive coronavirus test earlier that night prompted the league to suspend the season.

Teams that were within six games of the final playoff spots in each conference would be included in the 22-team format, according to Wojnarowski and Shelburne. The 20-team format reportedly would only include the top eight seeds in each conference and the four teams, including the Kings, within four games of the eighth seed. If the NBA opts to resume the season with 22 teams, there would be regular-season games and a play-in tournament "to compete for playoff berths in both the Eastern and Western Conference," Wojnarowski and Shelburne reported.

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The Kings have gotten good news all week, with NBA general managers reportedly preferring by a wide margin a "Playoffs Plus" format to resume the season with 20 or more teams and their inclusion in all the formats gaining traction among the league's decision-makers. 

Sacramento could get even better -- and more official -- news next Thursday if either a 20- or 22-team format is approved.