I was not writing for HoustonPress.com when the Trevor Ariza signing went down last year so you'll have to take my word for it -- I was very skeptical and surprised by the signing at the time. (Note: There are megabytes and megabytes of sound from me on the internal archives at 1560 The Game to this effect. Come by sometime, I'll play them for you.)
One of the most subtle traps that a general manager in any sport can fall into is the mistake of overpaying complementary guys on championship teams. I understand the aroma of rings on a player and the "most recent snapshot" being their participation in a rain of confetti can be difficult to ignore, but the graveyard is full of general managers and head coaches who have been burned by signing the Scott Williams' and James Poseys of the world to long-term deals.
Trevor Ariza felt like one of those guys -- a guy whose skill set was actually maxed out (as opposed to downplayed) on a great team. In short, I was surprised Daryl Morey fell for him.
According to Yahoo!, the Rockets and three other teams have completed a deal which essentially amounts to (at least partially) an admission that the signing of Ariza to a five-year, $33 million deal before the 2009-2010 was a mistake.
The trade brings guard Courtney Lee, who will be playing on his third team in three years in the league, to the Rockets and sends Ariza to the New Orleans Hornets. Other details of the trade: the New Jersey Nets pick up forward Troy Murphy, and the Indiana Pacers get point guard Darren Collison and swingman James Posey.
As for what this deal means to the Rockets and the other three teams...
HOUSTON ROCKETS On The Court: The emergence of Chase Budinger in his rookie year (which had to exceed even the Rockets' expectations) made Ariza that much more expendable, and allowed the Rockets to deal from a relative position of strength to shore up a serious weakness on the team -- backcourt defense.
Courtney Lee is a developing player offensively, but his calling card is his ability to defend on the ball. The Rockets starting backcourt of Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin is one of the weakest in the league defensively. Now, with Lowry and Lee in reserve, it gives Rick Adelman a yin and yang situation at both guard spots (Brooks/Lowry at the point, Martin/Lee at the two) where you have some defensive toughness off the bench and in longer spells if you need it.
As for Ariza, you could see both statistically and from a body language standpoint that the extra playing time load he was shouldering in Houston was too much for him. He went from being a 24-minute-a-game guy in Los Angeles to a 36-minute-a-game guy in Houston. The result -- his field goal shooting dipped below 40 percent and his free throw shooting dropped to 64 percent. Tired legs.
Financial Implications: It's no secret that the Rockets offseason sent them spiraling into luxury tax hell. Between the team's matching Cleveland's offer for Kyle Lowry ($6 million per year), ponying up to keep Luis Scola ($9 million per year), and bringing in free agent center Brad MIller ($5 million per year), the Rockets' off-season spending sent their overall payroll to a point where they were bracing for an $8 million luxury tax bill.
Between luxury tax reductions and the difference in Ariza's salary versus Lee's salary this coming season ($6.3 million versus $1.3 million), Daryl Morey saved $10 million of "Mr. Alexander's money" this season and about $28 million over the life of Ariza's deal. (Good news for people going to parties at Les' house! No pizza rolls for appetizers! Kobe beef and oysters Rockefeller, fools!)
Lee is in the third year of his rookie deal with a team option for $2.2 million next year and then a qualifying offer of $3.2 million for 2012-2013. Basically, over the next two years combined, Lee is making half of what Ariza will make in 2010-2011 alone. So in short, the Rockets traded an overpaid, complementary guy with four years left on a bad deal for a third-year guy who's probably hungry to be back on a potential winner (I'd imagine the Orlando to New Jersey transition is probably soul crushing) and whose salary is very manageable for at least two more seasons (ADD: Reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo, Rockets are also getting a $6 million trade exception in the deal, too. The deal keeps getting better!).
QUICK HITS ON EVERYONE ELSE IN THE DEAL:
New Jersey: Solid deal for the Nets. They get a versatile big who can rebound and extend the floor in Troy Murphy (who happens to be from Morristown, NJ). If they decide it's not working out, his nearly $12 million expiring contract will be a valuable chip come trade deadline.
Indiana: Clearly, between this deal and the reported buyout of T.J. Ford, the Pacers believe they've found their point guard of the future in Collison, who performed very well when Chris Paul went down with an injury last season. Posey is a throw in who's always been more valuable on better teams, so whatever.
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New Orleans: Good thing for the Rockets someone is still buying into the Ariza hype. On the surface, this appears to be a "See, Chris! We'll spend to bring in players to complement you!" move by the Hornets to show Chris Paul they're committed to winning and spending to win. I'm not sure how a bad contract (Ariza's) for the Rockets is a good contract for this Hornets team. if they're trying to get Chris Paul's wandering eyes to focus on New Orleans, Trevor Ariza is basically a fat chick at the beach. Hornets' management is going to have to do better than that. Not to mention that if they do decide to give in and trade Paul, they just traded their next chance at a potential point guard of the future in Collison. Mardi Gras clearly started early, and the Hornets are shitfaced.
SUMMARY: The Rockets probably have a better balance to their roster now after this deal, got better defensively, dumped a bad contract, and saved a bunch of Les Alexander's money. Now, all we need is for Isiah Thomas to get re-hired by the Knicks so those two first round picks of theirs get maximized, and this will be a great day!
Wait...what's that?...they did?....Isiah?.....Really?......BWAHAHAHAHA!!!! (UPDATE: I got cocky. Two hours after this post went up, Isiah Thomas rescinded his acceptance of the Knicks consulting position. Terrible jinx by me. Sorry, Rockets fans...)
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.