After defeating the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets find themselves just 48 minutes from reaching the NBA Finals. Chris Paul and James Harden have garnered headlines, but Trevor Ariza has been one of the Rockets’ unsung heroes.
His defensive pressure and ability to guard Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson has been key for a switching Houston defense. Not to mention Ariza brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience, and is the only Rockets players with a championship ring.
That of course came with the Los Angeles Lakers, who Ariza spent parts of two seasons with. He was a key member of their bench during a run through the 2009 NBA Playoffs, particularly against the Denver Nuggets when he came up with game-winning steals in the Western Conference Finals.
While Kobe Bryant developed a reputation for being hard on teammates, he always respected those who didn’t fear him and were willing to come close to or match his dedication on the court. Ariza’s approach led to him becoming one of Bryant’s closest friends and teammates.
Bryant recalled the two being essentially tied together during their time with the Lakers, via ESPN’s Zach Lowe:
“We were inseparable,” Bryant tells ESPN.com. “If you saw Trevor, you saw me. He didn’t need me to show him how to work. He had it already — that ambition.”
The five-time champion also praised Ariza for his mentality:
“Trevor is tough,” Bryant says. “There is no punk in Trevor at all. You’re not going to bully him, and you’re not going to intimidate him.”
Ariza averaged 8.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.7 steals while appearing in 82 games (20 starts) during the 2008-09 season. He then averaged 11.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in the playoffs.
After winning a championship with the Lakers, Ariza signed a five-year, $34 million contract. It was a deal that came to fruition in large part because Ron Artest departed Houston for Los Angeles, receiving a similar five-year contract during the 2009 offseason.
The Rockets traded Ariza that ensuing season, and he went on to play for New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards before returning to Houston in July 2014 on a four-year, $32 million contract.
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