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Healthy Ariza sits, apparently awaits trade on Saturday

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NBA: Sacramento Kings at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As a free agent signee this summer, Trevor Ariza guaranteed himself a bare minimum of only two months in a Suns uniform in exchange for $15 million and a chance to play deep in the playoffs this spring for some other team.

I did not want to believe it would happen like this, but apparently Ariza knew all along this was how it was going to go.

Ariza has been dogging it since opening week, a real bad sign for the free agent that was supposed to help change the Suns culture for the good.

In my game preview of Suns-Celtics on November 8 — just three weeks into the young season — I called out Trevor Ariza’s poor play in a boo-inducing home loss to the Nets the game before.

Ariza had dogged it on several possessions in a row in a stretch that began with the Suns in striking distance of the Nets. When Kokoskov called a timeout to stem the blood-letting, these were my comments.

Ariza never went back to the huddle. Never spoke to the 20-year old Ayton about hustling. Never spoke to the 22-year old bad-habit Booker about hustling. Nope. Ariza just walked toward the bench, then wandered away from the huddle and stood there with his hands on his hips talking to no one.

No teaching moment. No veteran moment telling the young guys what they did wrong. He just stayed off to the side, and found himself subbed out along with Ayton by the time the timeout was over.

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I blame Ariza for not being that guy the Suns thought they’d drafted. I also blame Booker and Ayton for not hustling more on D. Sure. But Ariza is supposed to be the culture-setter! You’re not setting the RIGHT culture by jogging around the court and just watching while teammates loaf.

Maybe Ariza is holding it for the locker room. Maybe he’s going to light into the guys between games to get them pumped for the next one.

Trust me please, I am not laying all blame on Ariza. Everyone is loafing. Everyone. The kids are developing bad habits because they are seeing it from the “veterans”.

Is it Igor’s fault? Yes. Is it Ariza’s? Yes. Is it Booker’s? Yes. Is it Ayton’s? Yes.

It’s everyones.

That was a MONTH ago. The Suns have won two games since then against 15 more losses. Ariza never stopped dogging it. Never stopped long stretches of simply walking up and down the court.

Fellow benchie Ryan Anderson talked about being a positive influence in the locker room despite not playing. Anderson and I chatted for 15 minutes one night after a game about how he’s never been in this situation before as a non-playing veteran leader, but he’s making the most of it and talks to Igor all the time about how he can be better.

But when I asked him about Ariza’s mindset, he simply said “Trevor’s a pro; he’s controlling what he can control”.

Kokoskov inexplicably played Ariza the second-most minutes on the team this year, at 33.9 per night, despite Ariza posting a 10.3 PER (league average is 15), 37% shooting percentage, and awful minus-17 per 100 possessions (roughly: a full game)

The 4-23 team is literally only a minus-2.7 per 100 possessions when Ariza does NOT play.

By this same metric, the Suns are better with all or any of Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and T.J. Warren on the floor than when they’re not. And that INCLUDES their minutes with Ariza. Melton, Canaan and Daniels are low-minute net-pluses as well.

Ariza wants out. That’s obvious.

He missed several easy layups on Monday night in a winnable game against the Clippers. When the Suns stormed into an 8-point lead with five minutes left, Ariza was nowhere to be seen. When they surrendered that lead in about ONE minute, guess who’d been subbed back in? Yep. Ariza.

Now, trade rumors are swirling and, in response, Ariza may be taking PTO (paid time off) over the final week off of his mandated Suns tenure by sitting the bench in his warmups (probably with his post-game outfit on underneath), cracking jokes with teammates. He was healthy but did not play on Tuesday night in San Antonio.

Ariza cannot be traded, by league rule, until Saturday, December 15. But if he’s already sitting out games, there may be a deal in place to trade Ariza for assets.

Maybe a point guard?

Maybe another draft asset?

While a lot of executives were at the Suns game on Monday in Phoenix — more than usual — it was at least the Brooklyn Nets assistant GM at both Suns games early this week, including the close Clippers loss in Phoenix and the blowout loss in San Antonio.

Why would the Nets GM be following the Suns so closely? Could De’Angelo Russell (please no) or Spencer Dinwiddie (eh) be involved in a deal? And clearly, the Suns might have to give up a young player along with Ariza, or why would any execs be watching Suns games?

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but Dragan Bender of the expiring contract has suddenly gotten more playing time this week after being undusted on the end of the bench for a month.

Who knows what will happen or when. Hopefully, we will find out soon.