Unrestricted free agent Trevor Ariza turns 34 on the first day of NBA free agency (June 30). Despite his age, he will have plenty of suitors in free agency. The 6-foot-9 small forward posted impressive numbers last season—spending time with the lowly Phoenix Suns and the mediocre Washington Wizards—as he produced above his career averages in points (12.5), rebounds (5.4), and assists (3.7).
Ariza signed a one-year, $15 million contract with Phoenix last offseason. Even after registering his highest scoring totals since 2013-14—all while maintaining a strong presence on the defensive end—Ariza will be hard pressed to ink a second consecutive lucrative deal this summer.
Unlikely to re-sign with the Wizards, who are in full rebuild mode and anticipated to be sans star point guard John Wall (knee) for the entire upcoming season, Ariza is expected to find a new home. Ariza’s ability to guard most positions should make him a commodity when free agency begins.
So before the free agency frenzy starts, let’s discuss three teams who will be interested in his services.
3. Denver Nuggets
Ariza may decide to join a different Western Conference contender. The Nuggets, who are on the rise after finishing with the second-best record in the West, have a glaring need at small forward. Ariza’s long frame enables him to guard the wing scorers that Denver at times struggled to defend last season.
Denver can offer Ariza a $9.3 million mid-level exception contract, something Houston cannot and Los Angeles may be reluctant to do as it builds its core this offseason. The Nuggets are also more likely to offer a long-term deal (perhaps a three-year contract) to Ariza, who can stretch the floor for All-NBA center Nikola Jokic and rising star Jamal Murray.
Playing alongside Jokic, one the NBA’s top facilitators, is an enticing option for Ariza. Jokic is excellent at finding his teammates in the right spots and Ariza would benefit significantly as a three-point specialist. Murray is an All-Star in the making, as evidenced by his terrific 2019 postseason, and the Nuggets have a chance at representing the West in the 2020 Finals with the conference seemingly wide open.
Ariza could start next to Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap ($30 million team option for 2019-20), and Gary Harris. Given the potential fit in the lineup/offensive scheme and financial incentive, the Nuggets present Ariza with arguably the best situation in free agency.
2. Houston Rockets
The Rockets desperately missed Ariza this past season, failing to adequately replace the production he provided when the team won a league-high 65 games in 2018 and reached Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. The long-bodied Ariza posted a 105.1 defensive rating in his final year with the Rockets.
The Rockets’ replacements for Ariza did not get the job done. James Ennis III signed with the Rockets last summer, but they foolishly traded him away midseason to the Philadelphia 76ers. Ennis III thrived in the postseason, emerging as the 76ers’ most consistent bench contributor.
Houston acquired Iman Shumpert in a trade with the Sacramento Kings, but the guard/forward never made a substantial impact.
Ariza maintains a strong rapport with the current Rockets squad. Thus, a potential return to Houston (for what would be his third stint with the franchise) makes plenty of sense. Ariza provides a threat from the outside shooting 3’s, something that is critical in Mike D’Antoni’s floor spacing-based offense. James Harden and Chris Paul would love to have Ariza back in Houston, as both players excel at driving to the paint and dishing the rock to a corner-3 shooter.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Another team with a superstar player (LeBron James) who specializes in attacking the paint and kicking out to the open teammate, the Lakers present an ideal situation for Ariza.
After winning the title with the Lakers in 2009, a return to the franchise gives him a chance at a second ring. The Lakers are in the conversation for NBA title contenders after acquiring superstar big man Anthony Davis.
Assuming the Lakers are unable to ink another pricey star in free agency, they could offer more money to Ariza than Houston. The Rockets, who are backed-up in cap space due to the massive contracts of Paul and Harden, won’t be able to offer Ariza a substantial deal, unless they can unload Clint Capela in a trade. Dealing away Capela seems unwise, anyway, after the 25-year-old center accumulated career-bests in points (16.6) and rebounds (12.7).
Ariza could start next to James and Davis in the front-court. He may, however, be utilized as the team’s sixth man if the Lakers insert Kyle Kuzma into the first unit.