Houston's Ariza Seeks to Be an All-Star
One day, Ariza wants to make the voyage himself.
"I've put in the work,'' Ariza said. "I want to be (an All-Star).''
The Houston shooting guard is realistic enough to know it won't happen this season. But he believes he has the potential to eventually share a February stage with teammates to which he once played second fiddle.
Check that. More like sixth fiddle.
Ariza won a ring last season with the Lakers. But, on a star-studded outfit, he was just the team's sixth-leading scorer with an 8.9 average, although that was a career high.
The Lakers wanted to keep Ariza, 24, when he became a free agent not long after the victory parade. But his agent, David Lee, sought more money from the Lakers, willing to give Ariza a long-term contract starting at around the midlevel exception of $5.854 million.
After the Lakers decided instead to turn to Ron Artest, Ariza ended up signing a deal with the Rockets not too much different from what the Lakers had offered, getting nearly $34 million over five years. But Ariza shrugs off talk about money to say he left the loaded Lakers in order to develop more as a player.
"I (departed) to have more of an opportunity here to become more of a complete player,'' said Ariza, taken after his freshman year at UCLA in the 2004 draft by New York before being traded to Orlando in February 2006 and to the Lakers in November 2007. "I would be able to start here and become more of a player that I wanted to become ... I wanted to just expand my game and see how I can do playing in a situation where I have more of a bigger role on the team.''
Ariza, who started 20 games during the regular season for the Lakers before starting all 23 in the playoffs, had developed into a Lakers' defensive specialist. His last-second steals in two Lakers' wins over Denver in the Western Conference finals perhaps saved the season.
But Ariza didn't believe he would develop into the player he wants with the likes of Bryant, Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum hogging the ball and the headlines.
"He wanted to improve his overall game, and he didn't feel that was possible in L.A.,'' said Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. "It's not L.A.'s fault, obviously. They've got arguably the best wing (Bryant) in the league and other great offensive players such as Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. He felt he wanted to expand his offensive game.''
So what have been the reviews so far?
Well, Ariza is leading the Rockets, who are without stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, with a 17.6 scoring average, well above his career mark entering the season of 6.9. And he certainly can't complain about his team-high average of 38.9 minutes. But far less thrilling is Ariza's shooing percentage of 38.2 percent, including 32.8 percent on three-pointers.
"It's up and down,'' said Ariza, who said he has "no regrets'' about leaving the Lakers despite their 16-3 record to Houston's 11-9. "My shooting is not exactly where I want it to be ... But I know I'm not going to struggle like this the whole season.''
Ariza doesn't think he's ready this season to be an All-Star. Rockets coach Rick Adelman, though, doesn't rule out it happening one day.
"He's going to take his lumps,'' Adelman said of adjusting to a bigger role. "He's going to be up and down but he's certainly proven he can become a much-better all-around player than he was (with the Lakers). ... He has the ability to become an All-Star. He just has to learn how to play 38 minutes a game, when the responsibilities are thrown to you and the ball is in your hands. What decisions do you make? After a year like this year, that's when he's got to take it to another level this summer and learn from what went on.''
For now, Ariza is worrying about the Rockets playing host Wednesday to Cleveland. The Cavaliers made a late push at Ariza during free agency last July but he said he'd already committed to the Rockets.
"Cleveland did come in late, but I made my decision,'' Ariza said. "I'm a man of my word.''
Of course, the Cavaliers have a certain a guy who wears No. 23. Watching LeBron James go to All-Star Games didn't seem to be the best way for Ariza to develop the way he wants.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and is on Twitter @christomasson.