Where in the Free Agency is Trevor Ariza?
LeBron James is a Cleveland Cavalier.
Chris Bosh will likely be a Houston Rocket.
Carmelo Anthony is probably a New York Knick; Chicago is still a long shot.
Where does that leave Trevor Ariza?
Well, count Cleveland and likely Houston off the market. Miami will be scrambling and the Lakers will be scrambling to add talent—nice destinations, bad situations, for winning or contract years. Neither Mitch Kupchak nor Pat Riley will be in the mood to hand out four years to a 29-year-old. The Lakers are about to add Jeremy Lin, and depending on how bereft the Heat’s roster will be of former players next year, it may be in the team’s best interest to avoid adding a piece like Ariza. After all, their first round pick goes to the Cleveland Cavaliers if it’s not a top 10 selection. (UPDATE: Chris Bosh has agreed to return to Miami, Dwyane Wade seems next in line, and Luol Deng is interested in replacing LeBron.)
Chicago still exists, but their focus is on Pau Gasol.
Even if the Bulls find space, Chicago’s brass is always cautious about over-paying a player. The NBA still remembers how Ariza’s first contract with Houston turned out.
The L.A. Clippers would still have to move around pieces (especially after signing Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar), or approach the Wizards with a sign-and-trade.
The Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards will each likely be competing for the services of two primary wings in some shape or form: Ariza and Luol Deng.
Dallas is now unlikely to get Chandler Parsons, as Houston has time to sign Chris Bosh and then decide to match the contract offer sheet before Sunday’s deadline. But even in losing out, the Mavs will be careful how they spend. They’ll also want to maintain flexibility with Dirk Nowitzki’s closing window; can’t see them willing to give Ariza four years and more than $9 or $10 million, no matter how much he might fit.
The Atlanta Hawks have money to burn, but
bet that Danny Ferry is as patient as his Spurs front office conditioning allows him to be. He has to be careful in this rebuilding project; he’s not aiming to merely be competitive. Hard to see Atlanta paying Ariza $12, or even $11 million per year. Al Horford makes $12 million per year.
Washington’s front office is furiously working, but also waiting. Trades must happen before Bosh goes to Houston. Kevin Love could be on the move. That guy Carmelo Anthony has to decide something.
The Wizards are holding fast—no more than four years, no more than $8-9 million per year. It remains to be seen if, in an act of desperation with a seemingly wide-open East*, Washington would be willing to go up to $10 million per year ($40 million over four years).
That is a lot of money for Trevor Ariza. Too much. With escalating contract numbers and the likes of even Channing Frye getting four years and $32 million, the difference in $1 million per year could seem negligible in consideration of constancy and the fact that Ariza was one of the three most important Wizards last season (or at least five, but definitely should not be left out of the top four). But $1 million, just over the veteran’s minimum, does make a big difference, even if the salary cap continues to go up.
Trevor Ariza ultimately will have his own decision to make, and that will have a much greater impact on the Wizards’ than the LeBron James decision. There will be some competitive teams, maybe even one on his beloved West Coast, that will offer Ariza $1 million or more per year than the Wizards. Some team might offer a huge salary but only two years.
LeBron James held the league hostage, but he had a right to. Not in every sense, but he is one of the top two basketball players in the world and can change the economy of a locale. His decision could not have been easy, although his camp managed to explain it well in his letter for Sports Illustrated.
Ariza doesn’t have the weight to bring a championship back to Los Angeles, but his decision will be similarly emotional, also coming with the draw of his hometown. Teams, however, aren’t built around him, so there could be basketball sacrifices to make (assuming Lakers, not Clippers).
When the Wizards sent a team that included Randy Wittman and Senior VP of Basketball Operations Tommy Sheppard to Los Angeles to court Ariza, they were said to appeal to his basketball emotions. Washington is the hometown of a rekindled career, a second life, a locker room that he truly enjoys. If they didn’t focus their pitch around money, it may be because they’re aware other teams will outbid them.
During his press conference on Thursday, Marcin Gortat cited camaraderie, the skills of John Wall as a point guard, Wittman putting him in the position to succeed, the Wizards recruiting him in Poland, and a newfound ability to lead as his reasons for returning.
Ariza has those same benefits, just not with the same leverage of Gortat, who got his asking price of five years and $60 million. For Ariza, it’s different—different position, different market. It will be interesting to see how much his basketball emotions come into play. But if he takes more money, you can’t blame him for parlaying a previously anticipated short-term stay in Washington into one last, nice contract.
* Depending on what moves are next (Kevin Love), the market is currently overestimating the potential of LeBron’s Cavs, Part Deux. LeBron has a lot of miles, proved that he could not do it himself in Miami, and now has lesser experienced teammates to lean on—the primary ones being young and without playoff experience.