Ariza, Swanigan And Gabriel Arrive After Trade With Kings
After playing the last two games with the minimum number of players in uniform, the Portland Trail Blazers finally got reinforcements Wednesday morning.
Not only did Jusuf Nurkić return to playing five-on-five for the first time since suffering a horrific leg injury back in March of 2019, three new players acquired via trade from the Sacramento Kings made their practice debuts — or in the case of one player, a return rather than a debut — Wednesday morning at the Trail Blazers’ facility in Tualatin.
The trade that sent Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and two future second-round picks to Sacramento in exchange for Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel wasn’t finalized until Tuesday morning, meaning the trio of new players had plenty of time to get to Portland in time for practice. Which is a good thing, as all three could very well see action in Thursday’s nationally-televised game versus the Dallas Mavericks at the Moda Center.
Ariza, a 6-8 forward in his 16th season out of UCLA, will not only play, but is expected to start Thursday night versus the Mavericks, and likely going forward the rest of the season, after coming off the bench exclusively this year for the Kings.
“I feel great, feel blessed,” said Ariza after going through his first practice with his new teammates. “Opportunity to play the game that I’ve been playing since I was a kind, the game that I love. I get another opportunity in a new city.”
In 32 appearances this season, Ariza is averaging 6.0 points on 39 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent shooting from three, 4.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.1 steals in 24.7 minutes per game. While his statistics don’t jump off the page, he brings the prototypical NBA small forward height and length, something Portland has been short on this season due to injuries.
“A lot of experience, an excellent wing defender, very good three-point shooter,” said Trail Blazers head coach of Ariza. “That position, we've been a little bit undersized at this wing. I think his experience -- he knows how to play -- I think he'll mesh really well with our starters. Trevor has had a really good career and for good reason: he knows how to play and I think he's a winning player. “
While Ariza hasn’t had much time to get up to speed on Portland’s terminology and play calls, having played in 710 games with nine different teams — 12 of you count the teams he’s played for at different points in his career — and the fact the Blazers have drastically trimmed down their playbook should ease his transition.
“At this point, we've really simplified everything that we've done over the years, so at this point, I don't think it will be that hard to catch on to,” say Damian Lillard. “Like today at practice, they put in some of the sets that we've been running, the things that we do a lot and we didn't have to stop practice to be like 'Alright, this what we gotta do.' He just kinda remembered it, it was pretty simple for him.”
It should also be a relatively smooth transition for Swanigan, who appeared in 45 games with the Trail Blazers over his first season and a half in the NBA before being sent to Sacramento in exchange for Skal Labissiere at the 2019 trade deadline.
The 6-9 forward, who Portland selected with the 26th overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, played sparingly for the Kings, appeared in just 10 games with the Kings since the trade while also spending time on assignment in the G-League.
But with so few options at power forward and center, Swanigan is almost sure to see more time on the court in his first few weeks back with the Blazers than he logged during his time with the Kings.
“You don't adjust to it, you just spend your life getting ready for it so when it comes, you can stay ready,” said Swanigan. “That's what they always say in the NBA: stay ready. You never know how it's going to come, you never know. So that's all I'm going to do, keep working hard and staying ready.”
Finally, there’s Wenyen Gabriel, who was only eligible to be traded after the Kings converted his two-way contract to a fully guaranteed NBA contract at the beginning of the 2019-20 season.
“I focus every day to go in the gym, work hard and get better,” said Gabriel. “As long as I'm showing progress, measurable progress in a reasonable time, I’m sure the changes in my contract and status and where I'm at is a testament to that. So I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to do and I'm going to continue to do that.”
The 6-9 forward, who went undrafted after leaving Kentucky after two seasons, has played a total of 61 minutes over the course of 11 game in this, his rookie season. Gabriel has spent most of his time since league Kentucky with the Stockton Kings of the G-League, where he’s averaged 11.4 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent shooting form three, 6.9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 assists in 49 appearances.
“I think I have an opportunity to get in there and play right now, especially with the injuries,” said Gabriel. “I feel like that's one of the reasons why I'm here, continue to embrace that. I'm just going to work hard and go out there and play.”
If the Trail Blazers weren’t playing without a third of their roster, perhaps Ariza, Swanigan and Gabriel would have a game or two to acclimate before playing significant minutes. But with Jusuf Nurkić, Zach Collins, Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere out, CJ McCollum questionable and the Blazers sitting in 10th place in the West, it’s all hands on deck.
“With Trevor and the starters, that should be pretty seamless, he knows how to play,” said Stotts. “With Caleb, he remembers a lot of the things we did, so I think for him, getting him on the court will be pretty easy as well. And Wenyen, he's a young player and we'll see where that goes.”