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He was a dominant force at Westchester High School. He was part of the first year of Ben Howland’s turnaround at UCLA. And now he is a Laker.

Trevor Ariza has come home, bringing with him some amazing dunks, good defense and a high-energy game that should fit in well with the young core of the Lakers. He was traded for veterans Brian Cook and Mo Evans.

Call us crazy, but this is the rare deal that has us actually using the words “Mitch Kupchak” and “shrewd” in the same sentence. Granted, this wasn’t the “BIG TRADE” everyone keeps talking about. But when was the last time the Lakers made a trade where they got the best player and saved money at the same time?

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Ariza’s upside is that at 22 he brings a Turiaf-like energy to the floor (if not the sideline cheering) — his hustle and steals on the defensive end made him a fan favorite in Orlando. Well, that and the dunks. He’s thrown down huge dunks in the face of Jermaine O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Ameka Okafur just to name a few. It’s a good think he dunks with authority, because he has no outside shot — this season he is shooting just 21% on jump shots longer than 5 feet. The good news is he realizes that and doesn’t shoot much from the outside.

But any offense he generates is secondary — the Lakers brought in Ariza to provide a second good wing defender (besides Kobe). Lamar Odom tries, but he is not quick enough to stay with the faster small forwards in the league, and Luke Walton is not a good one-on-one perimeter defender. But Ariza is. And that’s what will earn him minutes early on while he learns the minutia of the Lakers triangle offense.

Mo Evans, a solid if unspectacular backup, will be missed. His absence will mean Sasha Vujacic has to finally step up and prove a worthy backup for Kobe. This is his last chance to prove worthy, but he has looked better so far this season (and not just because of the new shaggy doo). The one-dimensional Brian Cook became many Lakers fans' whipping boy this year, he is not so hard to replace (and he may be better suited for Orlando, where Dwight Howard should open up some better outside shots for Cook, the one thing he can do well).

It may be a few months -- and even into next season -- before the Lakers see the full benefit of this trade. But for once the Lakers came out ahead in a trade. That is something to be thankful for.

AP photo by Tony Dejak