Lakers letting Ariza leave?

By Jason Wojciechowski on July 2, 2009 at 1:26 PM

The word is that Trevor Ariza is gone. L.A. is only willing to pay him the midlevel exception, and this has apparently made him upset enough that he's willing to consider offers from other teams, even if those teams can also only offer him the midlevel (like Cleveland). I think this is eminently reasonable all the way around. Ariza got a lot of attention in this year's playoffs because it seemed like he was involved in every crucial play, from stealing inbounds passes to hitting clutch threes. Everyone talked during the playoffs about how much improvement he had shown.

But compare his regular season numbers to his 06-07 season with Orlando.


Shockingly similar, right? The Lakers asked him to shoot the ball from the outside more, so his FG took a hit, but a combination of one extra shot per game plus taking two threes per game made up for shooting worse, in terms of his points scored. (Ariza's effective FG% dropped from .539 to .511.) Ariza did go from a solid steals guy to one of the top steals guys in the league (tenth in steals per game, second in steal percentage), and his FT% did improve (but he shot one fewer of them per game -- again, his role with the team didn't really let him get to the line very often).

The basic stats aren't hiding a deeper story, either: Ariza's Win Shares, Offensive and Defensive Rating, PER, and rate stats (e.g. Steal Percentage) mostly show a guy who is improved over the 21-year-old version of himself, but not to the point where you'd commit to five years of big money with him or something.

If it were my money, I'd bet that we saw a playoff mirage from Ariza, not a genuine leap forward. He basically did exactly the same thing he did in the regular season, he just happened to hit 47% of his threes instead of 31%. Is it possible that after an entire offseason of work on his shooting (which we heard about incessantly), he jumped from "bad" to "won't kill you" and then from "won't kill you" to "Ray Allen" as soon as the regular season ended? I guess. But it's far more likely that he was riding a hot streak, and that he'll revert to a sub-35% shooter from downtown next year.

This is not to say that Ariza doesn't have value, because his explosiveness and his defensive prowess certainly are worth something. It's just that in a luxury tax situation, where you might have determined that you can only keep one of Ariza and Odom unless one of them is willing to stay on the cheap (e.g. the midlevel exception), you can't afford to overpay based on perceptions created by small samples.