When Ariza was 10 and in Caracas, Venezuela, where his stepfather Kenny McClary was playing professional basketball, a five-year-old Tajh fell "to his death" out of an open hotel window more than 30 stories up.
While Tajh's death was a source of torment—Ariza's other brother, Kenny, suffered from nightmares—it also served as a springboard for Ariza's basketball career.
"They were more close than he and I were," Kenny told Lee. "As kids when we talked about what we wanted to do, my younger brother, he wanted to be an athlete. When he passed, my brother really took it to heart, like I’m going to make it for all of us."
Almost two decades later, Ariza has made it. But the path to where he is now was not without its twists and turns.
Ariza was drafted midway through the second round in 2004 by the New York Knicks. Since then, he has played for six different teams—the Knicks, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Hornets and Wizards. None of his stops have lasted longer than two full seasons.
To this point, Ariza's career has been that of an NBA journeyman who isn't fit for everyday duty. He butted heads with legendary head coach Larry Brown in New York, suffered an injury that sidelined him for most of his first season in Los Angeles, won a championship with the Lakers in 2009 and watched as they replaced him with Metta World Peace that summer. And that was all before his brief stays in Houston and New Orleans.
Not much changed in Washington before now, according to Lee:
The Wizards nearly shipped Ariza to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Caron Butler in February 2013 before the deal was nixed by Clippers owner Donald Sterling. And after Ariza picked up his player option for this season, Washington made him more unsettled in the summer after drafting Otto Porter Jr. and re-signing Martell Webster.
“I was like, ‘Okay, the writing is on the wall about what you guys think of me and the direction you guys are going in,’ ” said Ariza, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Instead of folding in the face of more trials and tribulations, Ariza helped build something.
The 10-year veteran started 77 games and averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 40.7 percent from deep, the latter two stats being career highs. He's been equally pivotal throughout Washington's first playoff berth since 2008.
Against the Chicago Bulls, Ariza poured in 15.6 points on a scintillating 46.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc, reasserting himself as both an offensive assassin and defensive stopper.
It's been a season worthy of future stability and security for a player who hasn't had either for more than a decade. Yet once again, there may not be time for Ariza to get comfortable.
When Ariza reaches unrestricted free agency this summer, there's no guarantee the Wizards will re-sign him. They have the cap space, but Marcin Gortat will be up for a new contract as well.
As Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster explained in April, they might not be able to keep both, or even one:
Ariza brings in an important set of skills to the table that have helped define Washington on both ends, but the Wizards are better equipped to handle his departure. Martell Webster is a capable substitute, particularly when it comes to shooting, and you'd like to think that Porter will eventually grow to be a high-caliber starting 3 given his draft status.
Aside from the financial obstacles involved—Ariza could command between $8-10 million annually—David Aldridge of NBA.com wrote in February that Ariza is itching for a "return to the West coast." By next season, be it by choice or circumstance, Ariza could be playing for his seventh team.
But he's earned both security and stability in a different sense.
There is no doubt to his value, to his mental and physical fortitude. Ariza has overcome a host of obstacles to become who he is today: a two-way linchpin for an NBA playoff team.
“That’s not . . . I don’t have to," Ariza told Lee of returning to the West Coast in free agency. Wherever I’m wanted. Whoever wants me on their team, I guess.”
Plenty of teams will want Ariza this summer—including the Wizards.
There isn't a single franchise in the NBA that couldn't use Ariza's diligence and penchant for crushing whatever it is—bone breaks or heartbreaks—that stands in his way.
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