FanHouse Q&A With Trevor Ariza on Hornets' Success, Lakers Departure
LOS ANGELES - When the New Orleans Hornets took part in a four-team, five-player trade in early August, the message sent by first-year general manager Dell Demps was unmistakable: Chris Paul is going nowhere.
In parting ways with the point guard who so many saw as Paul's successor (second-year guard Darren Collison went to Indiana), Demps made it known that the next two seasons would be spent trying to convince CP3 to stick around beyond his free agency in 2012 by sticking with the plan of building around him. But the less talked-about dynamic of the deal involved the addition of a player with all of the qualities Paul had craved more of: a savvy, defensive-minded veteran with a championship track record.
Small forward Trevor Ariza.
He was and remains a pivotal part of Demps' pitch, a glue-guy whose versatility, team-first mentality and occasional offense has had much to do with the Hornets' surprising 29-16 record and current standing as the third-best team in the Western Conference (they're in a virtual tie with Oklahoma City and Dallas). He is in the midst of his best scoring month yet as a Hornet, averaging 12.9 points on 44.8 percent shooting overall and 37 percent from three-point range while New Orleans has won eight straight games and 11 of 13 entering tonight's matchup with Oklahoma City.
Ariza and I sat down at the Hornets' team hotel in Marina Del Rey earlier this season to discuss his career, from his time as one of the league's best reserves with New York, Orlando and the title-winning Lakers (in 2009) to his time as a starter that began after he signed a five-year, $33.5-million deal with Houston in the summer of 2009.
He raved about his current situation, lauding Demps and first-year coach Monty Williams for creating the sort of winning culture he knew so well while with the Lakers. He lamented the way it ended with his hometown team, taking great exception to the notion that his greed led to his departure as opposed to the Lakers' interest in his replacement, Ron Artest. He discussed how grateful he is to be getting paid so handsomely to play a game he loves, one that he might play in Europe should the NBA have a lockout as so many expect this summer.
FanHouse: I always wonder how guys hear they got traded. Seems like it's not always the same story. How did you find out?
Trevor Ariza: First off, I'd seen on the ticker that I got traded. (His public relations manager, Eve Sarkisyan) told me I got traded, and then I saw on the (ESPN) ticker that I got traded. I was in San Diego getting ready to go work out. And then I called my agent and told him that I got traded, and he had no idea.
After that, at first I just didn't believe anything that anybody had to say. I just figured I'd go to New Orleans and do the job.
FH: Meaning what?
TA: Everybody says that you're a big part of our team, we need you and this and that, when in actuality they want to win but they have to look out for themselves. I just thought, 'Man, I'm going to worry about myself and then everybody else second because I've heard the same thing so many times.'
FH: You sound like you're a little bit burnt from the last couple situations with the Lakers and with Houston. Was that part of it?
TA: Of course you get burnt out on it, but I'm a team person, so it didn't take me long to realize that I can't just look out for myself. When I got to New Orleans, I had to play for the 14 guys who are on our team and our coaches as well.
FH: How much of you being in that mindset was related to the Rockets' situation and how they moved you after making that commitment to you?
TA: If you look at the situation that we had last year, our team was injuries all over the place, Yao Ming was out for the whole year, and we didn't really have like a superstar player. (Laughs)
FH: Did you think the trade for Kevin Martin (in February 2010) came into play as far as whether or not you guys played well together?
TA: I don't know. I don't know what to say about that. I guess so. I can't really tell you what they were thinking, because I'm not them. All I know is I played my heart out every game. Every time I stepped on the floor, I did my job, I did what I was supposed to do. And if they weren't happy with it or satisfied with it, then it's up to them. But I did everything I could do to help that team.
FH: How big was that experience for you personally as far as just having a consistent starting role?
TA: It was fun for me. I thought that, under the circumstances, I did pretty well. Sure I could've done better, but everybody wants to think that they can improve. I had eight months to make a big jump. There's a few exceptions, but how many players in this league in eight months just go from being a role player to being a superstar? I can't really tell you too many of them. It takes time, but I wasn't given the time. I'm not mad or bitter about it. It was fun, but things happen.
FH: Obviously (the Hornets') decision to send Darren out of town was their way of saying, 'Chris, you're the guy here,' and then saying 'Oh, by the way, Chris, here's a defensive-minded vet and a versatile player.' By all accounts, Chris has just loved playing with you. Now that you've been here a while, are you feeling like they're really invested in you?
TA: I definitely feel like they have a lot of confidence in me and appreciate what I do a whole lot because of our coach, who's a defensive coach. He gives me a lot of responsibility, and I never run away from that.
FH: They do put a lot on your shoulders defensively ...
TA: I like it, though. I really like it. That's what I try to do. Like I've been saying the whole time I've been in the NBA: anything the coach asks me to do that I can do, I'm going to try to do. Whether it's to score the ball or guard the center, I'll do it.
FH: Have you done some of that? You could guard (former Rockets teammate) Chuck Hayes.
TA: Yeah, I can guard Chuck. I can guard Chuck-wagon (laughs).
FH: You like Monty?
TA: I love Monty. He's real cool. Guys love playing for him because he's honest with you. In this league, that's all you can ask for is honesty. And when you have that, you know what you're looking for. He's not hiding anything from you. You give him this, and this is what you're going to get. If you give him all your effort, then everybody else is going to respect you and everybody else is going to want to help you succeed. That's what our team is built on is trust and maximum effort for each other.
FH: You surprised at all with how quickly he got your guys' trust? This is a first-year coach, a guy who has never done it before.
TA: I think that's what you get when everybody's vibe clicks. I guess you could compare it to a relationship, like when you meet a girl that you just all of a sudden just click (with). It's almost the same thing. Our relationship with the coaching staff and the team just clicked. Everybody comes to work early and stays late. Everybody wants to get better.
FH: Was that right away?
TA: Right away, from the beginning, before camp started. We all came in early. Everybody started getting their work in. Everybody staying after, wanting to get better. And it started from the top, from the general manager wanting to be there long hours to the coaches being in there long hours to the best player on our team being in there early and leaving late.
FH: And that all happened while there was a circus going on around you. Did that help, like almost galvanize the group?
TA: Yeah. I think the biggest thing was that everybody picked up to finish like 14th or 15th in the conference. We just worried about ourselves. We knew it was us against everybody. ... That's the approach we've taken. Everybody wants to get better. It's crazy, though, because if you come to our facility you'd see that we never leave the gym. We're there forever because that's what we want to do. It's very unique. There have been players on other teams (I've been on) who stayed for a while, but having everybody in the gym is different.
FH: How much of that is Chris' impact on the culture?
TA: He works very hard at what he does. He takes care of his body very well. He gets treatment. He's in there 8 o'clock every morning, and he's staying. We'll get out of practice at like 12:30 or 1 and he's there until about 2:30 every day. You see that. Everybody sees that. Quincy (Pondexter) and our rookies, they see that and they want to get better because they want to be at that level one day. Whether it's shooting too high or whatever, it's what they want to do.
FH: A shoot-for-the-moon mentality?
TA: And hopefully you land on the stars.
FH: Did Chris ever acknowledge any of his frustrations or give you any sense of where his head was at as the season approached?
TA: We went to the movies the other day, and basically he was just telling me that all he wants to do is win. If he was put in a situation where he could win, he'd be the happiest person on earth. And me the way I play, I don't play for stats. I don't play for self-recognition, none of that stuff. I play to win, because I think that's when you get the most praise is when you win.
When you have a bunch of players like that, you can't do nothing but win and be happy in that situation because you know you have players who are behind you and who are going to get in the foxhole and fight with you.
FH: Let's shift gears real quick and talk about family. I've got a soft spot for anyone who loves being a good father, and you certainly seem to fit that bill with your (three-year-old) son Tajh. As you go along in this game, how does fatherhood come into play for you?
TA: It's good, man. I can't complain at all. I love my family a lot. I love my son, and every chance I get to be with him, I try to be with him. I'll bring him to practice with me when I can. I brought him to the game. ... Throughout the season, he's with me at least a week every month in New Orleans, and I get time with him here as well. It could be better, but it's not bad.
FH: I know you don't love going all the way back to your Laker days, but we're here so I've got to ask you. You obviously haven't forgotten winning a ring with these guys, and I'm sure the fans haven't forgotten you.
TA: I'll never forget that -- the idea of winning here. But it was a situation where I did what I was supposed to do, took care of what I had to take care of on the court, but then on the business side of it was something where they wanted to go a different direction with it. They're entitled to, but ...
FH: But they claimed they offered you, did they not?
TA: Whatever. Say what you want. They're going to say what they want, I don't care. I know what happened. They know what happened.
FH: What happened?
TA: I'd rather not talk about it.
FH: You're right that it was rare. Usually a team wins it all and they want to bring the whole group back.
TA: Let's think about this here. The first thing you heard (on July 1) was that Ron Artest was going to the Lakers. That's the first thing everybody heard. How did they offer me on the first day of free agency if Ron Artest was (already) going to the Lakers? How? Does that make any sense?
TA: OK, well that's all I was trying to say. I'm not mad about it. I don't care. That's fine. But don't try to make me out to be the bad guy, like I'm this money-hungry, greedy person when that wasn't the case. It's crazy. I know the truth, and they know the truth.
FH: I've been hearing about your work habits and how they've impressed folks around you. What's your routine before the season with the time you spend in San Diego?
TA: We treat it like it's training camp. You know how football players have training camp for six weeks? Well, we go down there for like two months, get up at seven to eat and go work out. Do some ball-handling drills, some mid-range stuff. Me and my (trainer). We work out for about an hour and a half there, then we go lift some weights after we eat. We rest for a little bit, then go back at 6 and shoot, and we do that every day.
FH: You seem pretty happy.
TA: There's not much to complain about. I'm doing what I love to do, taking care of my family and call California a place where I grew up.
FH: You worried about the lockout at all?
TA: No, not at all. I think I do a pretty good job saving my money, but I think that we should all stick together. And there are always other alternatives. I love to play basketball, so wherever we can play we should play.
FH: What about your contract, though? Some people will tell you that you'd be risking your contract if you played overseas.
TA: How? If there's a lockout, there's no binding contract. If they're not going to pay us, then we've got to do something. The only risk would be if you get hurt, but then you take out insurance policies.
FH: Have you been to Europe?
TA: I went there last summer. It was really fun. I was in London and Paris. It wouldn't hurt (to play over there). It'd be cool.