While watching Bradley Beal and John Wall working out last month with Wizards assistants Ryan Saunders and Joe Connelly at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Trevor Ariza couldn’t resist the chance to put up some shots. So Ariza grabbed a ball and started shooting three-pointers and fadeaway jumpers — in jeans.
Ariza paid a brief visit to Las Vegas to watch the Wizards’ summer league team and catch up with some of his teammates and coaches. Before the franchise gave Wall a maximum contract extension, signed free agents Martell Webster, Eric Maynor and Garrett Temple, and drafted Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr., Ariza actually kicked off the team’s offseason when he informed the organization that he planned to pick up his option worth $7.7 million to remain with the team through the 2013-14 season.
“This is a business,” Ariza said recently, explaining his decision. “And with the way the free agents thing went this year, I don’t think it was a good year to be a free agent. But you know what, I’m just here to play basketball, ready to go, just work on my game and try to help the team win.”
The move was expected, because Ariza had already stated that he had no plans to “leave money on the table.” But it also didn’t deter the organization from taking Porter and bringing back Webster, creating more of a logjam at small forward than last season, when Ariza reluctantly accepted the role as a “sixth starter” after losing his starting job to Webster.
“That’s not for me to decide,” Ariza said when asked how he expected the battle to conclude. “I just play.”
Coach Randy Wittman used the 6-foot-8 Ariza at both shooting guard and power forward to ensure that he still received more than 26 minutes per game — just three less than Webster. After an underwhelming performance at summer league, Porter would need a stellar training camp to get significant playing time at the expense of Webster or Ariza.
Ariza is ready to push his teammates in practices and games.
“I’m going to compete. That’s what you’re going to get from me — competition,” Ariza said. “I’ve done throughout my whole career. Just go out there and play. Not any particular position, just whatever the coaches ask of me, I try to do.”
Ariza averaged 9.5 points and shot 36.4 percent from three-point range in his first season after joining the Wizards, along with Emeka Okafor, in a deal that shipped Rashard Lewis to New Orleans.
Wall and Wittman have both expressed a desire for the Wizards to add a big man who can stretch the floor from the perimeter, which could create more versatility to a wing-heavy roster.
The Wizards already have close to $70 million committed to 14 players and would only be able to sign a player on a minimum salary to stay below the luxury tax line. Owner Ted Leonsis said he is “willing to spend” but would probably want to have a contending team before making the Wizards a tax-paying team for the first time in franchise history — especially with the organization still on the hook for about $7 million to Andray Blatche.
If they look to make trades, Ariza and Okafor are both in the final year of their respective deals and Chris Singleton and/or Jan Vesely could also become expiring contracts if the Wizards decline the fourth-year option on either player. Ariza already believes the Wizards have had an eventful summer after closing out the season by winning 24 of their final 49 games.
“It is some interesting moves,” Ariza said. “I feel like it is a good team. Just got to pick up where we left off last year. I know they said that last year, but I felt like toward the end of the season, when everybody really was healthy and we found our groove, we had a good thing going. So if we can pick up from there and get better and continue to make the right moves, we’ll be all right.”
Ariza made another interesting move of his own this summer, parting ways with longtime agent David Lee to sign with Rob Pelinka of Landmark Sports Agency. Pelinka also represents Kobe Bryant and James Harden.
When asked if he thought the Wizards were a playoff team, Ariza said: “I’m going to feel the way I feel about any team that I’m on. We always have a chance. But it’s not for me to decide. That’s for our play to take care of. Hopefully, our style of play and how we work will turn into W’s for us.”