There were times when Trevor Ariza felt compelled to let everyone know how he viewed his role in the NBA.
One such occasion came the day after the Wizards concluded the 2013 season, one in which Ariza mainly served as a reserve.
“Well, I’m a starter. I’m going to let you know that right now,” said a forceful Ariza at the time. “I’m a team player, but I’m a starter. That’s what kept me going. That’s what kept me focused; knowing that I’m a starting three in this league, and nobody’s going to change that. Or nobody’s going to change that mentality, I should say.”
Others bought in. Ariza hasn’t come off the bench since. He started 474 consecutive games including 61 during the playoffs. That streak began the following season in Washington.
"It was nothing personal, nothing against my teammates," Ariza told a reporter one year later as the 2013-14 campaign concluded with a second-round playoff appearance. "I thought [the Wizards] were going in a different direction.”
The belief proved prescient. After helping Washington reach the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, Ariza entered free agency in the summer of 2014. With the Wizards’ plotting a Kevin Durant future and near-term fixes, he signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the Houston Rockets.
Four years later, Washington’s direction had them seeking a reunion. The Wizards officially acquired the 6-foot-8 forward Monday from the Phoenix Suns for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers.
There’s no confusion over Ariza’s role this time.
The Wizards, 12-18 through 30 games, have struggled in numerous ways. They misfire on 3-pointers to the point coach Scott Brooks recently half-joked he no longer assumed the matter fixable. Opponents comfortably drain deep shots against Washington. Starts are slow. Cohesion lacks.
Adding Ariza serves to address these matters even if just a short-term fix.
“He’s a great player. He’s a champion,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who also played with Ariza during Los Angeles’ 2009 championship season, on Sunday. “He knows what it takes to win. … [Trevor] can guard multiple positions. He knocks down big shots. He makes winning plays.”
Those traits were in plain sight during his first stint in Washington. Ariza’s reputation was different. He played for six teams during his first nine seasons. The journeyman perception included sidecar mention when the Wizards acquired him and Emeka Okafor from New Orleans in 2012.
Despite Ariza’s productive run in Washington, the Wizards had contingency plans. Ariza lost his starting job that first season in Washington to Martell Webster, who signed a contract extension the following offseason.
During that summer of 2013, the Wizards also selected Otto Porter third overall in the NBA Draft. Paul Pierce signed almost immediately after Ariza latched on with Houston in 2014.
Drew Gooden, a 14-year NBA veteran, played in Washington during the 2013-14 season when Ariza shot a career-best 40.7 percent on 3-pointers.
“Yeah we missed Trevor, but we added Paul Pierce, a Hall of Famer. He was great for us,” Gooden, now part of NBC Sports Washington’s Wizards broadcast team, said. “[Ariza’s value] wasn’t as noticeable at the time until he started winning in Houston.”
Ariza’s 3-and-D work keyed Houston’s 2018 Western Conference Finals appearance. Analysts note what Ariza bolting this offseason to Phoenix for a one-year, $15 million contract meant to his former team when assessing the Rockets’ struggles this season.
“You saw how he made Houston kind of gel,” Gooden said.
The league’s evolution toward deep shooters and those capable of defending the arc increased Ariza’s value. Playing two slender forwards together like Ariza and Otto Porter seemed far-fetched in 2014. That’s exactly the Wizards’ plan once Porter returns from his knee injury.
Despite a statistical drop in 26 games with Phoenix (37.9 field goal percentage), the Wizards weren’t alone in coveting Ariza this time. Other teams including the Lakers were reportedly in the mix when Washington swooped in.
“I think all NBA teams look at themselves and think they could be that much better with Trevor Ariza on their team,” Gooden said.
Part of Ariza’s local appeal involves helping former teammates John Wall and Bradley Beal elevate their performances. The Wizards go as their star backcourt goes. Just like most aspects of this frustrating season, their work hasn’t been good enough.
"We needed a change," Beal said of the team broadly. "Hopefully this is the change that sparks some energy out of us, some life out of us, that will get us to play the way we know we're capable of playing."
“It’s always great to add a guy like Trevor back, one of the best veterans and teammates I had,” Wall said. “We know what he brings to the table.”
Leadership is expected from the new oldest player on the roster. Don’t expect demonstrative acts.
“How hard he works after practice. How he takes care of his body. His leadership will be shown out on the court,” Gooden said. “When younger players see this, it’s going to be a template of an actual true pro.”
Ariza long ago believed his traits meant NBA starter. He never shied away from putting in the work to prove his point.
“I just always had confidence in myself,” Ariza said in 2014. “I always know that I have to work for everything. Nothing is ever going to be given to you period. With that in mind, I just worked hard and told myself that I was going to do everything to be the player that I think I am.”
That’s precisely the approach current Wizards desire. They made their move. The subtleties of Ariza’s game no longer require self-promotion.
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