Why Ariza Should Be Lakers Top Offseason Priority
It is often said in sports that the only thing harder than winning a championship is defending it. The Lakers and their front office find themselves currently in that position.
After resigning Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga, Los Angeles has committed $75.9 million to the 10 players that they currently have with guaranteed contracts for next season. While the salary cap has not yet been established for the 2009-2010 season, according to NBA writer Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld.com teams are operating as if the cap is projected to be set at $56 million.
While I admit that I am far from being a salary cap expert, it only takes simple math to know that the Lakers are significantly over the cap based on the committed salaries they already have. The NBA has a luxury tax penalty that they assess to teams who go over the salary cap number. Teams are penalized one dollar for every dollar they exceed that number. Another important piece of information to know is that the league requires a minimum of 13 players on each roster. Regardless of how you spin it, the Lakers will be paying a substantial tax to fill their roster next season.
This brings me to their free agent situation. As of this writing, three important pieces from last years championship are missing from next years roster, forwards Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza along with guard Shannon Brown. I’m sure the Lakers would love to find a way that makes sense economically to sign all three, especially Odom and Ariza.
Based on what I have seen from him on the court since Mitch Kupchak “gun and ski masked” him out of Orlando back in November 2007, Ariza should be the Lakers top free agent priority this off season. While Odom is the better all around player and the better player statistically, he is also six years older than the quicker and more athletic small forward in Ariza.
Odom has shown flashes of brilliance at times. Some that come to mind were his performances against Denver in the playoffs and against Cleveland in which they handed the Cavaliers their first regular season home defeat. But the problem with Odom is just that, he only shows you “flashes”. After 10 years in the league, we have seen enough of him to know what we are going to get, which is a player that has all the talent in the world but overall is inconsistent on a nightly basis.
Ariza brings a more consistent effort from game to game. He dramatically improved his outside shooting and has shown that he is more than capable of providing outstanding defense on the perimeter. Besides Kobe Bryant, the Lakers don’t have a wing man with that kind of ability. The Lakers gained athleticism and became better defensively as a team when Ariza became the starting small forward. To be without him in the starting line up would be a huge loss for the team.
Los Angeles already has depth on their roster at the power forward and center positions with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum along with their backups in Powell and Mbenga. If Ariza leaves that puts Luke Walton back into the starting line up and his back up would be Adam Morrison. The small forward position would instantly go from an area of strength to weakness. Even though Ariza would be getting a pay raise of at least double what he was making last year, it’s still cheaper than the pay cut Odom is willing to take to return.
In a perfect world, it would be great if everyone from last year was able to come back and defend the crown but unless Kupchak can find someone to take the contracts of Sasha Vujacic, Morrison or Walton off his hands, there is no way that’s going to happen. Even if one of the three I mentioned were moved, it would still be a tough challenge. No matter how you cut it, Dr. Buss is going to be paying a huge chunk of change to fill the Lakers roster. Might as well have last years starting five together when you do.