Happy Hookahs, #ArizaBruh: On the Departure of Trevor Ariza, Ex-Wizard
Wizards fans barely had time to digest the departure of Trevor Ariza before the surprise of the Paul Pierce news came. TAI’s Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20) and Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks) are here to chew on it.
1) How much does losing Trevor Ariza hurt the Wizards?
The Wizards lose their best perimeter defender, and John Wall’s favorite target for the corner 3-point jumpers he was so prolific in creating last season. With Martell Webster out for three-to-five months, at least, the 3-point issue (Beal, Ariza, and Webster were Washington’s best 3-point shooters last year) is compounded. And even with Webster, far from Ariza’s peer when it comes to defending opposing wings, the defense will have to adjust.
Remember, though, that the Wall-Beal-Webster-Nene-Okafor five-man lineup defended very well in 2012-13, to the tune of 0.85 points per possession allowed in 141.8 minutes played. Some of that may have been due to the benefit of Okafor’s presence, but a lineup of Wall, Beal, Ariza, Nene, and Okafor was not as stout, allowing 1.05 points per possession, albeit in a limited 28.8 minutes together. Point is: Randy Wittman is a good defensive coach, and the Wizards have proven they can adjust to the presence of a poor defender in the lineup. Can Otto or Paul Pierce match (or exceed) Webster’s defensive product? Probably. Not a high bar.
Assuming Paul Pierce starts, he would be a significant drop-off from Ariza. The rest of the starters would have to compensate for Pierce’s atrophied defensive ability. That said, Wittman will probably be able to hide Pierce against an offensively subpar opponent on most nights, and devise an appropriate team scheme on nights when Pierce can’t be hidden.
As for the shooting, the hope is that the Wizards found their gap-filler, sharp-shooting (Pierce is a career 37 percent 3-point shooter) wing, that Webster can return by the end of 2014, and that Ariza’s departure lets Otto Porter spread his heretofore stiff wings. Oh, and one more thing: Pierce, in limited attempts, shot pretty well from the corner (54.5%) last season. Are those John Wall’s hands I see coming together Mr. Burns-style?
Ariza’s departure will not be enough to knock the Wizards out of the playoffs, especially with Paul Pierce in the fold, but more so because the growth and progression of the individual games of John Wall and Bradley Beal will keep them in the fight. But as ESPN’s Bob Ryan mentioned on PTI last Thursday afternoon, the Wizards, with Ariza, had the opportunity to be the favorite in the East because of the continuity factor. With Ariza gone, no matter who the Wizards start at the “3” (Otto Porter, Paul Pierce, or an off-back-surgery Martell Webster), there will be a period of adjustment that could easily cost the Wizards victories and a high seed. And with the Cavaliers now presumably added to the playoff mix, there’s little room for error–the East could be wide open with a slim margin between the first and sixth seeds. Ariza’s presence would not have guaranteed any bit of success, because it is difficult to maintain a high level of play for consecutive years (see Martell Webster’s 2013 season). With Ariza the Wizards fell just short of the Eastern Conference Finals. What can happen without him remains to be seen.
2) How surprising is it that Ariza signed for four years and $32 million considering that reports via David Aldridge indicated that Washington was willing to go up to $9 million per year for four years? (And considering reports that Ariza’s price was escalating in upwards of $10 to $11 million per year otherwise.)
It’s very surprising. And it impacts the exit in a meaningful way. Many assumed that Ariza’s eventual exit from D.C. would be for his hometown of Los Angeles and a much bigger paycheck, not for Texas and a salary comparable to the Wizards’ offer. That Ariza left and signed elsewhere isn’t surprising, especially given the messaging in Leonsis’ recent blog post, which seemed to assume Ariza’s absence. But the specifics of his new contract with Houston will make this sting for some Wizards fans in a way that it wouldn’t otherwise.
Had Ariza gone to Los Angeles or to Miami (assuming LeBron had stayed) the four years and the $32 million would have made perfect sense. In that scenario, Ariza would be eschewing a larger salary for the opportunity to go home or to join a team that had been to four NBA finals in four years. As it stands, Ariza seemingly took less money than expected to play in the tougher Western Conference for a Rockets team that did not get out of the first round. Why not go to the Bulls, or better yet the Heat to cash in on Pat Riley’s newfound generosity? I am quite surprised, and I am interested in hearing what his thought process was.
Ariza made 389 field goals last year (958 points).
John Wall assisted on 165 of those FGs.
109 of those FGs were 3-pointers.
112 points on 2s and 327 points on 3s (439 total) from John Wall’s assists.
That’s 45.8% of Ariza’s FG points due to Wall.
3) So did Ariza snub the Wizards to play with Dwight Howard, James Harden and Patrick Beverley?
In a way, yes.
But Ari$a’s new Texas tax breaks can redefine a dollar in a way that makes the snub less personal. What about the potential basketball reasons for moving on? The Rockets, one of the five best teams in the West, represent a better team but may be just as middle-of-the-road as the Wizards by way of a superior conference.
Although Ariza will not have career-year-maker John Wall setting him up, he fits very well into Houston’s pristine, efficient 3s-and-paint system. That’s the same system (along with youth) that got Chandler Parsons his hefty three-year, $45 million offer sheet from Dallas, which Houston has now declined to match.
Ultimately, Ariza left the Wizards for a smaller amount of money than we expected. And that’s fine. He’s a good fit in Houston, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be as important to the Rockets as he was to the Wizards. Hookah up.
No. According to the Washington Post’s Michael Lee, Texas’ lack of state tax was one reason for his departure from Washington. If that’s true, it’s more of a business decision than a snub. If I’m attempting to climb into Ariza’s head, as well as he meshed with Wall, Beal, Gortat, and Nene, he will thrive even more on both ends of the floor with Houston’s roster. Dwight Howard is a bit more feared as an inside defender than both Gortat and Nene, which will allow Ariza—who is adept at guessing correctly in the passing lanes—to gamble even more without fearing consequences. On offense, playing with two All-Stars in Howard and James Harden, as opposed to one John Wall, means that Ariza could get just as many, if not more, open 3-pointers than he had in Washington.
4) What’s the make of Ariza’s replacements–Paul Pierce and Otto Porter?
Looking like a Paul Pierce. Great, unexpected move. And a good signal that, while the Wizards may not be able to lure the LeBrons of the world yet, they can poach former All-Stars out of their big-city glam here and there.
The Wizards weren’t able to find one player to replace everything they lost in Ariza, but Pierce brings some additional benefits beyond the measurables.
And … no … it can’t be … is that … Otto Porter … nailing a fallaway Summer League corner 3?
If Otto Porter keeps playing like he did in the opening Summer League game, and the follows that up with an equally strong training camp and preseason, he will force the Wizards to consider starting him over Paul Pierce. But most likely, Pierce, who brings championship experience and the ability to win games in clutch moments, will be Ariza’s replacement. He doesn’t defend like Ariza, and he is decidedly less athletic, but Wall, Beal, Nene and Gortat will allow Pierce to have more wide-open looks than he’s had since he played with Rondo, Ray Allen and KG.
5) What was the most memorable thing about Ariza?
It’s so difficult to pick one memorable thing. Ariza’s 3-point explosions against Houston and Philadelphia this season, the hookahstep, the wriggly finishes, watching a mid-career NBA player completely redefine his game with the team you love, Ariza’s tendency to forget what happened during the game further perpetuating his Californiabruh persona … all great memories. But I think this was the best: Ariza smiling, not letting go of an out-of-bounds ball also gripped by a really fucking serious Boogie Cousins, smiling while Cousins said presumably awful things. See below.
My lasting Trevor Ariza memory will be his 30-point performance in Game 4 of the Wizards’ opening 2014 playoff series against the Chicago Bulls. After the Wizards swept both games in Chicago, the Bulls came into the Verizon Center and stole a game back from the Wizards, who were without Nene via suspension due to a head butt. Ariza set the tone in Game 4 by scoring 11 of his 30 points in the first quarter, and led the Wizards to a 98-89 victory over the Bulls. The Wizards won the series one game later.
Pulled aside by the star-hungry ABC crew after the game, Trevor Ariza gave an account of how he used his playoff experience to come out of D.C. with a 1-1 split: “Just stay poised, stay wit it,” proffered the immaculate Wizard, having just set a career playoff-high with 30 points. It might seem strange to conceptualize the laid-back, discreetly excellent Ariza as “poised,” especially due to his tendency to employ a kind of almost-wrong slo-mo hookahstep with the ball on his way to the basket. But despite a sometimes awkward on-ball game, Ariza is as close to “poised” as a Wizard gets.
Ariza hit more 3-pointers all by his lonesome (six) than the entire Bulls team (four). Four of Ariza’s makes were in the first half, when the Wizards jumped all over a Bulls team that may have felt the false comfort of momentum seeping back into their bloodstream after a Game 3 adrenaline injection.
Put simply, the Wizards desperately needed one of their players to replace the points lost in Nene’s suspension. Poised, and with it, Ariza replaced every last one. He also asphyxiated the breath of life that Mike Dunleavy gave the Bulls in Game 3, smothering the pale antihero throughout the first half until Dunleavy’s confidence, and the Bulls, were sufficiently dead. Things change in the playoffs, but Ariza has been Washington’s most impactful player so far. What did Ariza have to say at the postseason pulpit?
“Tonight was my night to take on the scoring load and throughout the series I’ve been patient and just playing the way that we’ve played all year and tonight was my night.”
It was. Long live Lord Threeza.
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