Averaging career-highs in points (9.5 per game), assists (2.2 per game), and rebounds (5.2 per game), Lakers' forward Trevor Ariza is having the kind of year that any player would want as he faces free agency in the summer, which – in a weird way – might actually end up being a problem for the Lakers.
Along with Lamar Odom and Chris Mihm, Ariza's contract expires this summer. But unlike Odom or Mihm, Ariza's production dictates that he'll get a much bigger payday than the other two, one much larger than the 3-year, $9.3-million deal he signed in July 2006.
For his part, Ariza is doing what he can to end any speculation about his future. "It's still early in the season and we've got our minds focused on our team goals," he remarked his weekend. "When that time comes, I'll think about myself. But right now, I'm thinking about our team."
For the Lakers' front office, that decision might have to be made relatively sooner – as in within the next 60 days.
The Lakers are already scheduled to have a $78.3-million payroll next year after Odom, Ariza, and Mihm come off the books; that figure includes the partially-guaranteed deals for Josh Powell, Sun Yue, and DJ Mbenga.
Why does this all matter? Because if the team were to keep Ariza on the roster by giving him a nice long-term contract in the summer, he would cost the team an added dollar for every dollar he's slotted to be paid.
So the question becomes whether the Lakers need to consider moving Ariza now and getting something in return for him rather than having him price himself out of the team's budget in the summer. With his athleticism, talent, and production so far this season, Ariza almost certainly could bring in some talent for the Lakers.
"It is important for me to stay here, I think," Ariza told HOOPSWORLD. "This is a great team, a young team, and I see a lot of good things in the future."