Ariza would like to return to Lakers |

Ariza would like to return to Lakers

Beth Harris

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Trevor Ariza said Tuesday he would love to return to the Los Angeles Lakers next season.

The fifth-year forward becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, along with teammate Lamar Odom, who made $14.1 million this season and turns 30 in November.

The downtrodden economy, however, could play a part in how much other teams are willing to offer free agents this summer.

Ariza earned $3.1 million this season and he raised his price considerably during the postseason, when he averaged 11.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists during the Lakers’ run to their 15th NBA championship.

One of the lasting impressions Ariza left on Lakers’ management is shutting down Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu in the Game 5 clincher on Sunday. Ariza turns 24 in late June.

Ariza had his individual season-ending interview with coach Phil Jackson and general manager Mitch Kupchak on Tuesday.

“I definitely felt a lot of love,” Ariza said about the atmosphere at the meeting. “They definitely told me I improved a lot and they’re happy with the way that I played and how much I was able to help our team.

“I’d love to come back. Money is important, this is our job here, but I built a bond with my coaches and my teammates. We have a really good team and I think we’ll be good for a long time.”

Ariza stressed that the sense of belonging he feels among his teammates is a critical factor in where he plays next season.

“The most important thing for me is to feel like I’m part of something,” he said. “Throughout this process, I’m going to take into consideration a lot of different things, but that’s probably the most important thing.”

With veterans Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher leading the way, Ariza said, “They made me feel as equally important as they are.”

He was acquired by the Lakers in a trade from Orlando in November 2007.

“I didn’t really get a chance to play or I was too young or I didn’t fit into other people’s systems the way they would like me to,” he said.

The 6-foot-8 forward left UCLA after one season and was drafted by the New York Knicks with the 43rd overall pick in 2004.

Coach Phil Jackson has yet to confirm whether he’ll return after winning his record 10th NBA title, moving him past Boston’s Red Auerbach. But some of his players believe he’ll be back.

“I didn’t get the feeling leaving that he wasn’t going to be my coach next season,” Fisher said.

“I could be wrong, but I just think that we have a collection of players with the veteran leadership of Kobe and myself, he can feel good about the ability to coach and manage this team. All the work is not just on him to try to continue to get this team to grow.”

Gasol said he got the feeling Jackson wants to continue coaching.

“I really hope he can coach us again, not just for one year, for as long as he wants or can,” he said.

Luke Walton said the way Jackson spoke led him to believe there won’t be a coaching change next season.

“He was saying what he expects for next year,” Walton said. “Everything he said was with the intention he will be back, but obviously I can’t read him, not many people can.”

Also having exit interviews Tuesday were Jordan Farmar and Sun Yue. The Lakers hold a $736,000 option on Yue for next season.

Bryant, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, Odom and others will meet with Jackson and Kupchak later this week.

Fisher has another season at $5 million on his contract, as does Farmar at $1.9 million. Walton has four years and $21.6 million remaining.