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Trading Trevor Ariza will Haunt the Orlando Magic

Last season, small forward Trevor Ariza struggled to fit-in to Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy's offense, which requires its wing players to have three-point range; this deficiency apparently made him expendable, and on November 20th, the Magic traded Ariza to the Los Angeles Lakers for power forward Brian Cook and shooting guard Maurice Evans. He suffered a foot injury shortly after arriving in L.A. and did not play for much of the season.

In Orlando, Cook struggled to get in shape, while Evans--essentially a throw-in--eventually supplanted Keith Bogans as the Magic's starting shooting guard. Cook came around briefly, nailing some big three-pointers in Orlando's signature victory over Boston in January, but he regressed quickly, and his season ended when Dwight Howard hacked his right (shooting) hand while contesting a shot in practice.

So, what's changed, a year later? Ariza, finally healthy, spent three hours a day this summer working to add a three-point shot to his offensive arsenal and is posting great numbers in relatively limited minutes with the Lakers, a title contender. Cook, now healthy, rarely played in the preseason and earned a Did Not Play-Coach's Decision in the Magic's first game of the season, an embarrassing loss to the middling Atlanta Hawks. Oddly enough, the Hawks now employ Evans, who signed a three-year deal with them this summer.

Here's how it breaks down statistically:

2008/2009 Stats for Trevor Ariza and Brian Cook through October 31st
GP Pts Rebs Asts Stl Blk TO PF Min eFG% TS%
Ariza 2 11.0 4.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 0.5 0.5 22.5 .714 .679

With the Magic's being beaten to nearly every loose ball against Atlanta, it's become apparent that the team misses Ariza's hustle and athleticism. And while Mickael Pietrus, the team's free-agent signee, can mitigate some of that, I can't help but wonder how the complexion of this team would change if it were able to play a quick lineup of Jameer Nelson and Pietrus in the backcourt with Ariza, Rashard Lewis, and Howard in the frontcourt.

It strikes me that this personnel move, more than any other in the Otis Smith Era, is the one that has compromised the team the most. That's not a snap judgment based on Ariza's two solid games this season, though. It didn't make sense to trade him at the time and, although he obviously won't continue to make three-pointers at an 80% clip, his increased offensive versatility makes the deal look that much worse.