CLEVELAND — On his third team in the past four seasons, Trevor Ariza has had to get used to starting over in a new place. Only a few months after joining the Washington Wizards following a June trade with New Orleans, he has already figured out the best way to familiarize himself with his surroundings in the District.
“Navigation,” Ariza said with a laugh. “It’s great for me.”
Ariza no longer needs a mapping system to find his way to Target, having frequented the discount retailer in recent weeks “to find stuff for the spot.” He has yet to find a similar device to assist in him steering through the Wizards’ offense, but he hopes to figure it out before the beginning of the regular season.
Coach Randy Wittman gave Ariza the first shot at securing the starting small forward job, but his first two games were filled with indecision and apprehension. He passed up open shots to pass to teammates with a worse look, forced a few contested jumpers when he should have passed and didn’t know when to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. He had six turnovers in his debut against Charlotte, getting called for traveling twice, and missed 12 of 15 total shots against the Bobcats and New York.
“I think he’s pressing a little bit,” Wittman said. “He’s already made up his mind before the action is taking place, instead of reacting to what the defense is doing. I think he’s trying too hard sometimes and he just needs to relax and read things a little better.”
Wittman brought Ariza off the bench in the Wizards’ 99-95 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night, starting Martell Webster instead. Ariza finished with seven points and five rebounds but continued to struggle with his shot, going two of six from the floor.
Bradley Beal, making his first start of the preseason, along with Jordan Crawford and Brian Cook — who filled in after Kevin Seraphin left the game with a strained right calf — led the Wizards with 14 points apiece.
An eight-year veteran, Ariza is the Wizards’ third-highest paid player and has the most experience of any small forward on the roster, but he didn’t arrive expecting anything to be given to him. He accepts that the job that he has grown accustomed to having in previous stops in New Orleans, Houston and for the Los Angeles Lakers is up for grabs.
He also understands that a little patience is required as he learns yet another scheme.
“This is what, our second week?” said Ariza, who is averaging 7.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. “Rome wasn’t built in one day. So it’s going to take time to get used to and playing with these guys and figuring out what spots work for me.”
The 6-foot-8 Ariza is coming off a difficult season in New Orleans, where the Hornets decided to rebuild after trading Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers and finished tied for the third-worst record in the league.
He started 41 games, averaging 10.8 points and 5.2 rebounds, but was benched the last 10 as Coach Monty Williams decided to take a look at Al Farouq Aminu. Ariza didn’t cause a disruption — “I’m just a player in this league,” he said — but he assumed that he would be traded.
“The losing was tough. I’m not going to lie,” Ariza said. “But I enjoyed my teammates so much. We went through so much on the court that when we had time to spend with each other, we took advantage of it.”
He found out about his trade to the Wizards while playing pickup basketball in Los Angeles with John Wall. The two didn’t play again last summer and will have to wait until Wall recovers from the stress injury in his left knee in another six weeks to see how they would look on the floor together.
During the Lakers’ run to a title in 2009, Ariza flourished as a starter, playing off all-stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The Wizards acquired him with the hope that his athleticism and defensive intensity would complement Wall and Nene, but the Brazilian big man also remains sidelined with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Emeka Okafor, who arrived with Ariza in the trade, has yet to play in the preseason after experiencing some soreness and later battling a stomach virus.
Wittman is willing to let Ariza play through his errors as he tries to get a read on his revamped and already depleted team. But Wittman hasn’t had any complaints about his effort on the defensive end, where he has been one of the team leaders in deflections.
“Obviously, his ability to defend multiple positions and get on the break are things he’s got to continue to give us,” Wittman said. “Every play goes up and down from a struggle standpoint, making shots and things of that nature, but the staples of his game have got to stay consistent.”
Ariza is just hoping that everything else falls into place soon.
“It’s definitely tough that it hasn’t been so fluid,” Ariza said. “I want to play good. I want to win, but good thing it is the preseason and we have time to work out the kinks, but we still want to play good throughout those situations.”