You can count me among the numerous people who thought Trevor Ariza's move to Houston would prove to be disastrous. I felt Ariza was not the type of player who would thrive under the glow of the spotlight.
If Ariza could hear me, I would offer him my most sincere apologies, because not only has he thrived, but it seems his game has taken a step forward also.
Honestly, who could have blamed me for having converse feelings about Ariza? Up to this point, he had never done anything to merit more than a passing glance as a mainly serviceable player.
My familiarity with Ariza extends to his days as a high school player in Los Angeles. It is purely coincidence the first time I ever heard his name mentioned was in comparison to LeBron James.
Ariza had an uncle who thought James was unfairly getting all the attention as a top high school player in America, and he unwisely decided to let the world know his sentiments.
This uncle could not understand what all the fuss about LeBron was and boldly declared that his nephew, Trevor Ariza, was not only his equal, but his better.
LeBron got wind of this statement, and it just so happened that his high school team was heading out west to do battle with Ariza's high school team.
The battle quickly became a slaughter as James proceeded to let Ariza's uncle know that the talent differential was actually a chasm, and Ariza was not nearly the player that James was.
Ariza had a decent game that day, but LeBron had the type of game that helped spur his legend, and as his fortunes rose, Ariza's took a different path.
Ariza went on to become one of the more celebrated players in Los Angeles city history and eventually enrolled at his hometown school of UCLA.
As a freshman, Ariza won first team Pac-10 rookie honors and decided it was time for him to make the leap from college to the NBA. Apparently, the rest of the league didn't think he was ready as he tumbled to the New York Knicks in the second round.
It may have been foreboding when Stephon Marbury said the Knicks received a steal by getting Ariza so low, but considering the source who was going to put much stock in Marbury's statement?
He split a few forgettable seasons between New York and Orlando, but it seemed he was destined to be another of the various swing men who were decent players but never expected to rise beyond their station.
He was rescued from this version of NBA limbo when he was afforded a chance to not only play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, but to actually be an important cog in their talented machine.
Ariza was forced to spend the majority of the 2007-2008 season in street clothes due to a foot injury, and limited to marginal duty as the Lakers were humbled in the 2008 Finals by the Boston Celtics.
The karma of the Lakers changed the very next season and so did the fortunes of Ariza, as he became their primary three-point threat and the best defender on the team, second only to Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers were able to capture a championship and Trevor's future seemed secure. He was destined to spend the better part of his career in the city of angels.
It was not to be, as he became embroiled in a bitter contract dispute that alienated him from his team and his fan base. His agent felt Ariza deserved more than the mid-level exception the Lakers were offering but the organization would not budge.
Truthfully, the Lakers were smart not to overbid for Ariza, because although he was an important piece, he was by no means irreplaceable, and their replacement part would come from the very team that Ariza signed with.
In what was basically a swap, Ariza departed for Houston while the Rocket's Ron Artest took his superior defensive skills and quirky personality to Los Angeles.
In essence, this is where Ariza's true story begins, because he was for once about to be the offensive focus of his team. With the injuries to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, Ariza was going to be counted on to provide the bulk of the scoring.
How was he going to perform without Kobe to draw the attention away from him? Would his defensive flaws become more noticeable without seven-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the background?
Would the notion that his offensive game was limited to spot-up three-pointers and back-door cuts to the basket be illuminated? Six games into the season, Ariza has gone a long way towards proving the doubters wrong.
He is averaging more than 20 points per game, 4.5 assists, four rebounds, and is shooting an astonishing 46 percent from three-point range. Pretty good for a guy destined to be a role player.
Much of Ariza's success can be credited to the lessons he learned from playing alongside Bryant. Ariza even says that much himself, so credit him for having the knowledge to take advantage of that opportunity.
Another thing that can't be taken for granted is something that Ariza himself says is his biggest motivation, the opportunity to prove naysayers wrong.
He still has trouble creating his own shot and gets beat off the dribble too much, but these—like other parts of his game—are things that will continue to improve as he continues to grow.
For now, Ariza is basking in the limelight, enjoying the fruits of his hard-earned labor. He knew he was capable of this all the time, it just took us doubters awhile to catch-up.
Seems like he relishes the chance to show that at last he is growing into his own, finally Trevor Ariza is his own man.