Trevor Ariza is only 25 years old, but in his seven years in the NBA he’s been through more experiences than a lot of 35-year-old veterans.
Drafted at age 18, Ariza had to fight for a roster spot as a second-round pick. He has played for five pro teams since then, having been traded three times and signing one contract worth nearly $35 million. He has lived in New York City and Los Angeles. He has played with Kobe and Penny and Grant Hill. He has won an NBA championship and played for Lottery teams. He has been an NBA Finals hero and a little-used benchwarmer.
This season is Ariza’s first with the New Orleans Hornets, having come over in a summer trade. Starting every game at small forward, he is averaging 10.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals while his team sits in 5th-place in the Western Conference. The other night I got up with Ariza to talk about his new team, his new coach, and how he avoids the wrath of Lil Wayne:
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Dime: How has this season gone for you so far?
Trevor Ariza: It’s been up and down for me individually. As far as from a team standpoint, it’s been the same — a little up and down, but more ups than downs. We’re starting to get back on the right track and headed in the right direction.
Dime: Were you at all surprised that the team started out so hot?
TA: I don’t know if I’d call it a surprise. It wasn’t surprising to us. Everybody had counted us out, but we didn’t count ourselves out. I think teams were overlooking us at first.
Dime: What is your role on the Hornets?
TA: I guard the best player every night. That’s the one constant, but other than that, in different games I do different things. Some days I’ll have to score, some days I’ll to rebound. You know, whatever it takes to win, that’s what I try to do.
Dime: You signed a multi-year deal in Houston, so I’m guessing you didn’t expect to be traded after the first year. What was your reaction when you found out you’d be going to New Orleans?
TA: I didn’t see it coming. But when it happened, there was nothing I could do about it. All you can do is move on, so that’s what I did.
Dime: Do you have any hard feelings towards the Rockets?
TA: No, I wouldn’t say that. It was a little confusing when it happened, but I understand there is a business side to basketball.
Dime: In your NBA career, you’ve always been a guy people say is an X-factor for your team. In what ways do you think you can be that kind of difference-maker for the Hornets?
TA: I think with my experience. I’m still young, but I’ve been in all kinds of situations in my seven years in the NBA. Nothing rattles me too much on the court. If I’m open and the shot clock is winding down, I’m willing to take that shot and hit that shot. And the end of a game, when the game is on the line, I’ll do that as well. I’m not afraid to make a play in the big moment.
Dime: How long does it take to get adjusted to a new system and new teammates?
TA: To get used to a new system, that can take a while. As far as getting used to new players, it all depends on your teammates and how cool they are. It didn’t take me long at all in New Orleans, because everybody is so cool and we get along. I feel like I’ve been here for years.
Dime: You’ve played for a couple of Hall of Fame veteran coaches in Phil Jackson and Rick Adelman. What is it like playing for a rookie coach in Monty Williams?
TA: I actually enjoy for playing him a lot. This is his first year, but he’s been around some really good mentors. He played for Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and coached under Nate McMillan in Portland. Those guys are defensive-type guys, and that’s what Coach (Williams) likes to team.
Dime: Is the player-coach dynamic different with Monty Williams because he’s younger as opposed to what you had with Jackson or Adelman?
TA: A little bit. It’s different because he’ll ask for feedback from us. He’ll admit he hasn’t been in every situation as a head coach, so he’ll ask for our input. It’s kind of cool as a player because you feel like there’s some give-and-take there.
Dime: Is there anybody on the Hornets whose game surprised you when you got there?
TA: The person that surprised me the most is Marcus Thornton. We call him “Mr. Sco’,” and “Sco’-Sco’,” because he can sco’ the ball. (Laughs) He just comes in and gets buckets.
Dime: You’ve been in L.A. most of your life. How has it been getting adjusted to living in New Orleans?
TA: It’s cool, man. As long as I get to play basketball I don’t mind. I have been in L.A. most of my life, but change is good sometimes. In the NBA you have to get used to changes of scenery.
Dime: There was a story last week about Lil Wayne being mad at LeBron and D-Wade for not talking to him during a Hornets/Heat game. Do you talk to Wayne when he’s sitting courtside?
TA: (Laughs) I didn’t hear about that. I mean, when I see Wayne I say what’s up, but I don’t know about what anybody else does.
Dime: You’re probably used to all the celebrity sightings from playing in L.A., though.
TA: Oh yeah. When I first got to the Lakers, I remember the first time I saw Jack (Nicholson) at the game it was like, “Oh my God.” That was pretty cool.
Dime: Do you ever wear your Lakers championship ring?
TA: Nah, I keep it put away.
Dime: What would it take for you to consider this year a successful one?
TA: As long as the team wins, that’s a successful year. No matter what my numbers look like, as long as we win, that’s all that matters.