Suns want Ariza to provide talent, leadership to young team

PHOENIX — General manager Ryan McDonough says Trevor Ariza was the first player the Phoenix Suns targeted in free agency, speaking with him and his wife via FaceTime from a car one minute after free agency began.

The Suns spent virtually all of their cap space on the 14-year veteran NBA forward, who agreed to a one-year, $15 million contract. On Friday, he was introduced as the newest member of a team that believes it is close to turning the corner after years of losing.

“They are a young team with a lot of talent that don’t know how to win,” Ariza said.

The 6-foot-8 forward will go from Houston, the team with the best record in the NBA last season, to the Suns, who had the worst and haven’t made the playoffs in eight years.

“We need his defensive ability and versatility, his shooting ability,” McDonough said, “but I think as much as anything, maybe more than anything, we need his leadership and his winning pedigree.”

When the Suns had their first interview with new coach Igor Kokoskov, they asked what free agent out there would fit the team’s needs.

“I swear the first words out of his mouth was Trevor Ariza,” McDonough said.

Ariza, who turned 33 last Saturday, played for the Rockets the past four seasons. Before that, there were stops in Washington, New Orleans, Houston (the first time), the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando and the New York Knicks. He averaged 11.7 points per game last season, shooting 37 percent from 3-point range. He’s a career 35 percent 3-point shooter averaging 10.5 points per game.

Ariza has made the playoffs nine times and is looking to show the young Suns, with talents such as Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and this year’s No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, what it takes to succeed.

“In order to be a great team you have to be selfless,” Ariza said. “You have to be a real live dog to come out there and compete every night. In order to get better, you’ve got to give to your team. If you give to your team, everybody sees it, everybody feels it, and it makes the next person next to you want to give to you.”

James Jones, the Suns’ vice president for basketball operations, said Ariza “speaks to exactly what we’re looking for.”

“He’s a guy that every time he steps on the court and laces them up, goes out there to try to win,” Jones said. “It’s not just game day. It’s practice. It’s the way he approaches the game, the way he approaches the off days, film, just everything.”

Ariza credited the Suns’ approach for his signing.

“Phoenix was the most aggressive team, and the team that showed the most interest,” he said, “and, as human beings, we all want to feel appreciated and wanted. When a team just shows that much appreciation with what you do, naturally you’re just attracted to something like that. I understand that this is a situation we have to build to win.”

Ariza has played with Kobe Bryant and James Harden, and he’s looking to help Booker on his drive to be among the best.

“I get to see another extremely talented player to grow,” Ariza said. “If he needs anything from me, somebody to talk to about different situations, I’ve been around these types of players. The shoes that he’s walking in, or the places that he’s going to go, I’ve seen. So any kind of advice I can lend him, I’m always available to (do) that.”

He also gets to play with Ayton, the 7-foot-1 phenomenon drafted No. 1 overall.

“I think he’s an amazing player,” Ariza said. “He’s got unbelievable touch. He can get up and down the court. He seems to be a monster on the court. I’m excited to play alongside of him and try and make him better.”

Notes: As for a new contract with Booker, McDonough said the two sides have had productive talks and will continue to talk through the weekend. Booker is expected to get a maximum five-year, $158 million contract that kicks in next year. … the Suns signed all four of their draft picks — Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Elie Okobo and George King. All were expected in the Suns’ Las Vegas Summer League opener Friday night.