Wake up call: Paying for Trevor Ariza's character can prove costly

Wake up call: Paying for Trevor Ariza's character can prove costly
July 4, 2014, 6:00 am
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Because of what has happened in the past, the Wizards are careful to not repeat some of those same mistakes when it comes to assessing players' value off the court as well as on it.

Make no mistake, that's a good thing.

As they await an answer from Trevor Ariza, an unrestricted free agent, and as Martell Webster recovers from his third back surgery to repair a bulging disk, is there a such thing as putting to much stock in a player's character?

Probably not, as the San Antonio Spurs would attest after winning their fifth NBA championship last month, but it warrants inspection. Webster, who was an unrestricted free agent last summer, was signed to a deal that pays him $22 million for four seasons. Part of the reason for the length of that deal was Webster had a career season when he averaged 11.4 points per game and flourished with John Wall as the point guard.

Webster's calming influence off the court factored into the decision to give him the full mid-level exception, after the Wizards had long rid themselves of their last miscreant in Jordan Crawford. Webster had an up-and-down 2013-14 season. Now, he's out as much as five months because of the surgery after having had two before he came to the Wizards. His trade value is non-existent. 

Now let's look at Ariza. What makes Ariza so valuable to the Wizards isn't just his ability to defend the wing and disrupt the best player on opposing teams but what he does off the court, too. When the Wizards began 2-7 last season, it was Ariza who called a players-only meeting that helped heal wounds between the younger and older players and got them on the correct path. The Wizards won 44 games as a result, secured the No. 5 seed in the East and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in nine years. 

There's a new culture here that they've grown addicted to and they're correctly embracing it. It's not always about talent but fit. And they want players who buy into the grit-and-grind personality of coach Randy Wittman the way Wall finally did in his fourth season by becoming a first-time All-Star. 

This is why they want to keep Ariza. The Wizards long to maintain this path to legitimate championship contention. This is why a role player such as Garrett Temple, for instance, is all but assured of returning. Same for Andre Miller who is 38. This is who they are, and Wittman was given a three-year contract extension which shows that commitment. 

In free agency, however, could this could prove a hindrance? The Wizards just paid Marcin Gortat $60 million over five years, all fully guaranteed, at age 30. Ariza is coming off a career season in which he made $7.7 million. He wants a raise and at 29 he wants job security as well.

The Wizards appear to want to give him one but not the other. The less money, the more years. And vice versa. Ariza, who has won an NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers, badly wants to win and compete for a legitimate contender which disqualifies about 20 of the NBA's 30 franchises at the start.

With a raise demand, that'll eliminate at least half of the remaining 10 who don't have or want to use that cap room by exceeding $10 million per on his salary.

It's a tough spot to be in for the Wizards. If managed the right way, however, they can thrive no matter Ariza's decision.