Posted Sep 30 2010 10:17AM
WESTWEGO, La. -- When Trevor Ariza arrived at the Rockets' training camp a year ago, one of his stated goals was to take his game to a place it hadn't been.
So now he's in New Orleans.
Oh, there were plenty of rimshots from a guy who connected on a career low 39.4 percent from the field. But it was less about what he couldn't do than what he didn't do that wound up putting Ariza into the middle of a four-team swap in August that has him as a main ingredient in the keep-Chris-Paul-happy stew the Hornets are stirring together.
"My experience [in Houston] wasn't bad," Ariza said. "But I'm here with older players. I just feel more comfortable around older players.
"I got to do a lot of things. I got to try and experiment with a lot of things. I think I took another step. My shooting percentage wasn't the highest or best that I've shot. I guess it's a learning experience."
It was a curious marriage from the start with Ariza moving from a world championship with the Lakers to a world where the ground in Houston was practically shifting beneath his feet with Yao Ming sidelined for the entire season and a surgically-repaired Tracy McGrady battling with management and greasing his own skids for a ride out of town.
What had made it more puzzling was Ariza's willingness to embrace virtually the same mid-level exception deal (five years, $33.5 million) from the Rockets that he had previously spurned from the Lakers.
What made it look worse was when Ron Artest accepted practically the identical deal to join the Lakers and eventually helped Kobe Bryant & Co. defend their NBA title, the Rockets missed the playoffs and then shipped Ariza right out.
"I guess that's the way the business works," said the 6-foot-8 swingman. "I guess I didn't fit in with what they wanted to do."
Frankly, his role in Houston didn't fit in with Ariza's own history and track record. He's long and athletic and can run the floor. But he has never been a primary scorer. In L.A., Ariza rarely created his own shot. He isn't a first-rate ballhandler and has never been much of a shooter off the dribble.
The Rockets, it seemed, were trying to hammer the proverbial square peg into the round hole, while Ariza was inclined to show the world that he could be much more than a third or fourth option in a lineup behind Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and maybe even Andrew Bynum.
The good news in New Orleans is that in a lineup with CP3 and David West, Ariza is back in a position where he can do the things that he does best -- run the floor, finish on the break, occasionally hit spot-up 3-pointers and defend on the perimeter.
The regard for Ariza's ability was demonstrated by first-year general manager Dell Demps and rookie coach Monty Williams, making Ariza the first acquisition in their reconstruction plan to get the Hornets back into the playoffs and to keep Paul in New Orleans.
"I watched Trevor play in high school," Demps said. "My first year scouting with the Knicks, we drafted Trevor. So I've watched him grow not only as a player, but as a person.
"Trevor is one of those guys that has a lot of positives on the court. He defends, he can score, he can block shots, he can run and he's athletic. He's just an element that I believe the team needed and it's going to be interesting to watch him develop here.
"He's only 25. He's a young guy still. We don't think he's reached his peak. We're real excited about him and the potential he has for moving forward and to get better as soon as he feels comfortable."
There never seemed to be a completely comfortable fit last year in Houston. Even when Ariza began to look for his shot more over the second half of the season and his scoring average went up to a career-high 14.9, there was always a hint of hesitation or reluctance.
Maybe he was straining to do the starring-role tasks that were never required with the Lakers. He had often talked about expanding his game and showing how much more he could do. Yet it often looked like he was stepping into a pair of oversized shoes that didn't fit and slowed him down. He didn't score as efficiently off passes from his teammates as a cutter close to the basket.
With Paul, the best ballhandler in the league, running the offense and Williams wanting the Hornets to push the pace constantly, that should not be a problem.
On the first day of training camp, Williams already had Ariza on the floor at shooting guard with a lineup of Paul, West, Peja Stojakovic and Emeka Okafor.
"Small forward, the backcourt, we just want him out there on the court," Demps said. "We look at him to do a lot, not just scoring. We are going to put a lot of things on his to-do list. He's a guy that we're hoping will have a good season, we believe will have a good season.
"He's a guy that is going to bring energy and experience. He has the swagger of a champion and we welcome that. He's been in big games and he knows where he's going."
After a year of Ariza trying something completely different, maybe it's as easy as going back to being himself again.
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