By dealing for Ariza, Hornets send strong message to star guard Paul
"I don't think I had anything to do with it -- that was
Now Ariza is heading to New Orleans, nearly a month after
Paul's wish list was reported by CBSSports.com on July 22, which happened to be the same day
Demps opened a dialogue with Paul and asked him in early August what he would think about adding Ariza, a 6-foot-8 ball hawk who excels in transition and started for the Lakers in the 2009 playoffs, parlaying his role on that championship run into a five-year contract with Houston, where he was responsible for creating more offense and shot just 39.4 percent. Ariza was dogged by constant comparisons to
"Good luck with that," Paul told Demps, skeptical that the Rockets would give up Ariza so soon into a long-term contract. But Demps had been targeting Ariza since the interview process, looking for someone who could defend elite wings and keep pace with Paul in transition. Ariza checked both boxes.
Demps had one obvious trade chip, backup point guard
"Chris is excited because when he's running up and down, now there will be somebody ahead of him," Demps said. "This is not just about Chris helping Trevor. It's also about Trevor helping Chris."
Ariza found out about the move at the Boys & Girls Club -- not in Greenwich, Conn., but San Juan Capistrano, Calif. -- where he was giving a five-day clinic to benefit his asthma foundation. Ariza, who used to need an inhaler at halftime, was mortified to tell the campers he had to cut out early for a news conference in New Orleans. They had been drilling him all week on why he left the Lakers, and now he was leaving the team he left the Lakers for.
"I don't expect you to understand right now," Ariza told the campers, "but later on you will learn that there are things you have to do in the business you choose that are out of your control."
He, as much as any young player, should know. Ariza is 25 and already on his fifth NBA team, having sat the bench in New York and Orlando before developing a three-point stroke in Los Angeles. Ariza had a tendency to kick his legs and twist his body when he shot, so when he broke his foot in 2008, Lakers coaches viewed it as a blessing. Because Ariza could no longer move his feet, he was forced to simplify his motion. But last season in Houston, some of the bad habits returned. Ariza is spending this summer working out in San Diego, trying to regain the rhythm he found in L.A.
If he was ever upset that the Rockets gave up on him after only one year, those frustrations were eased by Paul.
"Since the Hornets have been making some moves, he seems more comfortable with things that are going on," Ariza said. "I don't want to say I'm a part of anybody staying where they're at. The goal is just to get better together."
The Hornets play in the shadow of the Superdome, a constant reminder of how far they remain from a championship. They will likely need another major move to pacify Paul and catapult themselves into the Western Conference race, but then again, the Suns were largely dismissed heading into last season and they rode a premier point guard to the conference finals.
The Hornets are entering their audition period, Paul taking notes, Ariza striving to make this one go as smoothly as the last.