Trevor Ariza broke out in the NBA when he helped the 2008-09 Lakers win the championship. Now Los Angeles is apparently hoping it can bring his career full circle. The Lakers are monitoring Ariza’s situation with the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. If he becomes available through a buyout, the Lakers would surely be interested in bringing him back.
A buyout does not appear imminent, though, and Oklahoma City’s recent success in flipping veterans for draft picks suggests that the Thunder would prefer to try to trade him to a needy contender than let him walk for nothing. That would be a problem for the Lakers, as they lack both trade assets and movable salary to facilitate such a trade.
Even if Ariza were to secure an immediate buyout, the Lakers would have some difficult choices to make in pursuing him. At present, they have only 14 guaranteed contracts, leaving a roster slot open for him should they want to sign him or any other player. The issue is that the Lakers used the nontaxpayer mid-level exception to sign Montrezl Harrell, hard-capping themselves at the $138.9 million apron. At the moment, they have only approximately $1.3 million below that line. The cap charge for a one-year minimum-salary deal is $1.6 million, meaning they’d have to let some time pass before the prorated portion of that minimum could fit under the tax. The alternative would be waiving the non-guaranteed deal of Quinn Cook.
Realistically, the likeliest scenario would involve the Thunder waiving Ariza after the trade deadline. At that point, the Lakers would have no trouble fitting him under the hard cap without waiving Cook. That would take their roster to 15 players for the postseason, provided they make no other moves.
Their interest in Ariza is likely rooted in a desire to another bigger 3-and-D wing to throw at players like Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant in possible playoff matchups. LeBron James can defend such superstars, but asking him to do so for entire games, given his offensive workload, would be somewhat irresponsible. If Kyle Kuzma sustains the defensive improvements he made in the bubble last season, he should take some of those minutes as well, but the Lakers have been seeking out such a wing all offseason. They were reportedly interested in Glenn Robinson III before he signed with the Sacramento Kings as well.
At this point, the Laker roster is largely finished. They’d probably like to make another addition or two to supplement the current group before the postseason, but nothing is imminent. The Lakers will enter this season as championship favorites, and an Ariza addition would only strengthen their title defense.