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Trevor Ariza is both a blessing and a curse for Suns franchise

When the Suns agreed to terms with Trevor Ariza on a one-year $15 million deal, they sit in motion a lot of other necessary moves

Memphis Grizzlies v Houston Rockets Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

When news popped out last night that veteran 3-and-D wing Trevor Ariza had agreed to take all the Phoenix Suns cap space for himself on a one-year deal, the world was stunned.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough said he would be aggressive this summer. After the draft, he said he would focus on forward who could play defense and stretch the floor, as wall as point guard who run the show.

Well, I suppose the 6’8” Ariza fits that bill. McD didn’t actually say the word “power” in the description of that forward. Maybe we all just assumed that, since he’d already filled up the wing positions.

Anyway, you can expect rookie Mikal Bridges to be excited about the signing. I asked Mikal about Klay Thompson as a defensive comp and he praised Klay up and down but then said there’s another guy who he emulates more closely.

“I feel more like how Trevor Ariza did it,” Bridges said. “He’s a little older now, but back when he was a little bit younger, he was a little bit wiry, he could guard, he could block shots, stuff like that.”

Well, Mikal, that old man is now your teammate.

And that’s a blessing and a curse.

Curse

Let’s just do the curse part first.

If you want your rookie Bridges — who you traded the best asset in the league to get! — to show the world he’s worth it, WHY would you sign Ariza to take his minutes??

Now Bridges is stuck behind the team’s highest paid player (Ariza), it’s second highest scorer (T.J. Warren) and it’s reported small forward of the future (Josh Jackson). And that’s not even mentioning Jared Dudley, who’s still making $9.5 million this year. All are 6’7” - 6’8” who can spot at PF but can’t stay there for long periods of time unless the opponent is going small too.

Why why why?

Now McDonough has FOMO’d the league’s love affair with switchy 6’8” type defenders, adding Bridges and Ariza this summer alone while still leaving the power forward spot vulnerable and failing to address the point guard position... and now he’s out of money to spend. Poof it’s gone in one swoop.

And... and and and, to get Ariza $15 million, the Suns have to release Alan Williams. Big Sauce, native Phoenician and Suns lifetime fan, gone. I’ll miss Sauce.

The Suns depth chart now

  • Center: Deandre Ayton, Tyson Chandler
  • Power Forward: Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender
  • Small Forward: Trevor Ariza, T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, Jared Dudley
  • Shooting Guard: Devin Booker, Troy Daniels
  • Point guard: Brandon Knight, Elie Okobo, Shaquille Harrison, George King

huh

Blessing

Of course, the glass is also half full.

The league IS changing to switchy lineups that are all around 6’6” - 6’8” who can guard the perimeter on one end and make threes on the other end. And they often play a wing the size of Ariza/Bridges/Jackson at the four spot.

Last year, Ariza shared the front court spots with P.J. Tucker or Ryan Anderson, with Capela in the middle, Harden at shooting guard and Chris Paul at PG.

Now the Suns can trot out defenders around primary scorers Booker and Ayton. If we thought — and HE thought - the 6’7” Jared Dudley could be the stretch-four for the Suns, then Trevor Ariza certainly can. But Ariza can still guard the perimeter too.

Ariza played 33.9 minutes per game for the Rockets last year under Mike D’Antoni — third on the team in total minutes despite missing a dozen with injury. He made 37% on 6.9 threes per game. He had positive offensive AND defensive win shares.

Check out his stats:

Both Bridges and Jackson can learn from Ariza how to defend on the NBA level. Even if Ariza isn’t a teacher, per se, they can watch him every single day to pick up on what he does to be effective.

I can envision lineups with Booker at the point, Ayton in the middle and Bridges, Jackson and Ariza all around the perimeter. That could be very nice, with heavy doses of defense and shot-making.

It’s also a blessing that the Suns preserved cap space for next summer.

With $40 million in expiring contracts between Chandler, Ariza, Dudley and Daniels, the Suns will have lots of room to spend even if they extend Booker. Add in another $10 million if the Suns decline to guarantee Bender and Chriss for the 2019-20 season, and now you’re talking a max slot next to maxed Booker. The free agent class is a lot better next year than this year.

Next Steps

This cannot be the final Suns roster. They still have to make decisions on Chriss and Bender, and they still need to find a point guard. Badly.

Bridges and Ariza are both considered “win now” players. The Suns literally have been panned on the national stage for daring to acquire “win now” players. Bridges would have been better on a winning team like the Sixers, and Ariza with the Rockets. Why would they go to die in the desert?

So you can expect the Suns to spend the rest of the summer building on this core of rotation players for 2018-19.

  • Paint Monster: Deandre Ayton
  • 3-and-D wings: Trevor Ariza, Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson
  • Shooter/playmaker: Devin Booker

That leaves Brandon Knight, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss fighting for their spots. Could the Suns find spots for them? Of course. But they will have to fit into the new scheme to get their time.

That also leaves open the need for a shooter/playmaker who can actually run the offense full time.

Let’s wait and see what happens next.