The Los Angeles Lakers have been dealing with a multitude of injuries all season, basically starting with the first day of training camp before they even played their first preseason game. The injuries have included a couple of weeks away for LeBron James and Austin Reaves as well as a delayed debut for Talen Horton-Tucker who missed the first 13 games of the season. Kendrick Nunn has still yet to make his season debut, and it sounds like he won’t be doing so anytime soon as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin recently reported that he’s “not close” (h/t Silver Screen & Roll). I haven’t even reached the point of talking about Trevor Ariza, who is right beside Nunn on the team’s bench as players who are yet to play. However, it sounds like there’s optimism to be had regarding Ariza’s return to the court as he talked to the media on Monday (quotes reported and transcribed by Harrison Faigen and Jacob Rude of Silver Screen & Roll).
“I don’t think we’re putting a timetable on it,” Vogel said about Trevor Ariza’s return. “But he’s getting closer and we’re hopeful to get him back as soon as possible.
This isn’t the first time that Ariza’s name has popped up, whether it’s due to Vogel and the team stressing just how negatively impacted they’ve been by the injuries, or it’s talking about that combined with discussing how positively impactful Ariza could be once he’s a mainstay in the rotation.
“We feel like he’s going to be a real key to unlocking this team’s identity,” Vogel said, “with the ability to play Anthony (Davis) at the 5 more and have him (Ariza) sort of guard the other team’s best 3/4, and Bron plays off of that, and that’s just something we’ve not had in terms of how this year’s roster was put together. He was a big piece of it, and we hope to get him back as soon as we can.”
That’s a lot of responsibility put on a 36-year-old forward. However, Trevor Ariza isn’t shying away from the challenge, and he believes in the same ideas and concepts that Vogel believes in in regards to his place on his team.
“I feel like pressure is like a state of mind,” Ariza said when asked about the pressure on him to perform well when he returns. “I’m just excited to get back on the court when I’m ready to get back on the court. Pressure would be if I’m not prepared. And I feel like I’m prepared for when that time comes.”
“I bring a completely different element to this team, so hopefully when I am able to participate, and Kendrick is able to come back and play — who gives us another different element to this team — the things that we do, the little things that we do can kind of put our team together,” Ariza said. “Throughout my career I’ve been like a piece that you can just plug in and do a bunch of different things and make a difference, so whenever I get on the court that’s what I’m looking to do.”
Ariza’s presence could have a snowball effect that could cause great things for the Lakers. As Vogel said, Ariza’s ability to play the four will allow Davis to play the five more. Sure, the Lakers do have Carmelo Anthony doing well as he has largely played the four during this season. But Anthony doesn’t come close to bringing the defensive skillset that Ariza brings to the floor. Even though Anthony has seemingly improved game-to-game on defense as he has become a suitable cog in Vogel’s machine, Ariza’s skillset will always bring the team’s defensive capabilities to another level with AD at the five.
Both the offense and the defense have been a struggle for this team, but as we’ve come to learn from the past two seasons, everything ebbs and flows from Vogel’s teams performing well on defense. If they can get Ariza in and he can help the team get stops, then I’m sure Vogel will be confident in the team’s ability to get out on the break and let Davis, Russell Westbrook, and LeBron James go to work.