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.
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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.