A week later at the trade deadline, the Wizards almost sent Ariza back to Los Angeles on a more permanent basis, coming close to a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers for Caron Butler, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions. NBA.com reported that Clippers owner Donald Sterling rejected the deal for fear of breaking up the chemistry of a team that has the third-best record in the Western Conference.
Asked on Saturday if he was upset about being unable to join a contender, have a reunion with former New Orleans Hornets teammate Chris Paul and return to the place where he grew up and won a title with the Lakers in 2009, Ariza offered a shrug.
“Can’t really worry about that kind of stuff,” Ariza said. “I really don’t think about it. If it would’ve happened, cool. If it didn’t, even better. I’m not. . . . I like it here. Especially now that I’m playing better and we’re starting to win games. I’m not really worried about anything.”
Ariza currently is in the midst of his best stretch of basketball since joining the Wizards, in a trade that included Emeka Okafor, last June in a deal with the Hornets.
The 6-foot-8 forward has scored at least 15 points in four of the past five games, including a season-high 22 points in a 96-95 loss to Detroit on Wednesday in which he scored eight points in 49 seconds and came about a foot short of completing one of the more remarkable one-man comebacks in NBA history. His rushed jumper from the left corner nipped the bottom of the net, momentarily fooling some of the fans and the broadcast crews of both teams into thinking it had dropped.
Ariza’s improved play is far from an illusion, with the eight-year veteran finally finding comfort in his new surroundings and responding to an unfamiliar reserve role with compliance rather than complaint. After starting 206 of his previous 207 games before arriving in Washington, Ariza started 13 of his first 15 games with the Wizards before suffering a strained left calf in an upset win over the defending champion Miami Heat.
With Martell Webster thriving while Ariza was sidelined for 17 games, Coach Randy Wittman decided to keep Webster as a starter and bring Ariza off the bench. Instead of calling himself a sixth man, Ariza has instead preferred the title of “sixth starter,” because he receives considerable playing time and often is on the court in crunch time.
“Still, I look as myself as a starter in this league,” said Ariza, who is averaging 8.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and a team-best 1.48 steals. “I’ve been a starter for a long time, so it’s hard to just continue to come off the bench, but it is what it is. I’ve just got to stay ready.”