I don’t care if you’re a San Antonio Spurs fan, a Houston Rockets fan, an Oklahoma City Thunder fan, or even a Boston Celtics fan- anybody that appreciates basketball would admit that the 2008-2009 Los Angeles Lakers were something special.
Living 2,755 miles away from Los Angeles, I could care less about the team now (no matter how stacked they get), but to date, the 2009 Lakers are one of my favorite teams in NBA history. Ironically, the beauty of it all was how simple and average the team build was, unlike the 2012 Lakers.
And while it’s true that the 2009 Lakers included All-Stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the team was primarily built up of 13 above-average players. From three-point assassin Sasha Vujacic, to fan favorite Shannon Brown, to veteran leader Derek Fisher, to the double-double machine Lamar Odom, to the best benchwarmer in the league in Adam Morrison, the whole Lakers team worked magically together and ultimately became champions.
One name, however, that I didn’t mention, is Trevor Ariza.
During his days with the Lakers, Ariza was exemplar of a hardworking, high-energy hustle player. Rarely was there a dull play with Ariza, who got the majority of his points off of drives and fast-breaks. And, looking back now, I’m shocked to see that Ariza only averaged 8.9 points a game during his 08′-09′ season in Los Angeles. It seemed like whenever I’d watch the Lakers, the only two people that made any plays were Bryant and Ariza.
The season following the Lakers’ 2009 championship title, Ariza was shipped off to the Rockets, where he had the best statistical season of his career. Yet, despite averaging an impressive 14.9 PPG and 1.8 SPG with Houston, Ariza was irrelevant for most of the season.
The season following his “breakout year,” Ariza was traded once again to the New Orleans Hornets, where he started all 75 games that he played in and once again had a double-digit scoring season. Nonetheless, fans and media who once thought of Ariza as a promising young talent were beginning to forget him.
I can think of no better example than Ariza when I say that stats don’t determine a players’ worth. During and after his 2009 season with the Lakers, there were rumors swirling all around about what teams were interested in Ariza. The “lockdown defender.” The “athletic freak.” The “closest thing to Pippen.” And undoubtedly, the fan favorite.
It’s 2012 now, roughly two months before the upcoming season tips off, and I have yet to hear anything about Ariza. Despite having much better statistical seasons recently, Ariza is not being sought after whatsoever.
However, when looking deeper into the issue, one can see that much of Ariza’s downfall can be attributed to his own decisions.
Ariza has taken a step back and, dare I say, even gotten complacent. It’s evident that the Ariza today isn’t the same as the Ariza of 2009. The high-flying dunks aren’t on SportsCenter anymore. The loose balls seem to just be falling out of bounds instead of Ariza diving for them. The offense seems to be getting past Ariza much more easily nowadays.
Like Michael Jordan when he first retired, it seems like Ariza has simply lost the will to win. And while this may not show on the stat sheet, it could not be more obvious in his play that Ariza has taken a step back.
There is a lot of doubt surrounding Ariza this year, as he is projected to be the starting small forward for the Wizards. As a Wizards fan, I obviously have numerous goals I would like to see the team reach, but more than anything (besides for John Wall to become an All-Star), I really hope Ariza finds himself once again. I hope he becomes the exciting player he once was. I hope he shows us what hustle is all about again. I hope he locks down the best players on every team.
And I hope he’ll help the Wizards win again… Nah, who am I kidding!?