He may not have been their first choice, but either way, the Houston Rockets have agreed on a deal with free agent forward Trevor Ariza, according to Sam Amick of USA Today. The deal is four years and worth $32 million.
Daryl Morey didn't get the third star that he so desperately wanted. After missing out on LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, Morey had to settle for a second-tier free agent like Ariza.
All of this went down as the Chandler Parsons clock kept ticking. The restricted free agent signed an offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks that had Morey in a time crunch. Houston had 72 hours to match the offer, but they had to sign their free agent within those three days in order to re-sign Parsons via his Bird rights to go over the salary cap. In the end, the Rockets let him walk, which means Ariza will surely be the starter.
Whatever happens down the road this offseason, Ariza returns to Houston after a less-than-impressive first go-around.
Back in the summer of 2009, Morey persuaded Ariza to leave Lakerland and join forces with the Rockets. Ariza had just come off a championship run with the L.A. Lakers, but the Lakers upgraded at small forward by signing Metta World Peace, who was at the time known as Ron Artest.
Artest had just played his one and only season in Houston, who happened to be eliminated by the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals that year. After a heated series that went to seven games, Artest and Kobe Bryant put aside their differences, teamed up in L.A. and would ultimately go on to win a championship together the very next season.
Even though both players were free agents, it was essentially a trade between the Lakers and Rockets. The Lakers got Artest, and the Rockets landed Ariza. However, that wasn't the only change in Houston.
During that Lakers series, Yao Ming went down for the rest of the playoffs with a hairline fracture in his left foot. That injury sidelined Yao for the entire 2009-2010 season for the Rockets. The Rockets received a disabled player exception for Yao's injury, which is how the team was able to land Ariza with a five-year contract in the first place. However, Ariza only lasted for one of those seasons, and he never ended up playing alongside Yao.
The other star in Houston, Tracy McGrady, was at a crossroads in his career. He began the year injured with a left knee issue that had kept him out to end the previous season. He only could play six games with Houston before he was traded away to the New York Knicks.
Basically, Ariza was by himself in his lone season as a Rocket. He started in a lineup that featured Aaron Brooks at point guard, an aging Shane Battier, Luis Scola at the other forward and an undersized Chuck Hayes at center. That team had some great role players, including Kyle Lowry and Carl Landry coming off the bench, but not enough star power to reach the playoffs.
That year was the first of three straight seasons for Houston finishing in ninth place in the West. The Rockets finished above .500 in each of those three seasons, but they failed to reach the playoffs in all of them.
In his only season in Houston, Ariza put up 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. He also added 1.8 steals to that solid stat line. The real issue for Ariza was his timing with the franchise.
Ariza walked into a difficult situation when times were changing for the Rockets. Houston just lost two superstars and went through a phase of mediocrity before acquiring James Harden and returning to the postseason a few years later. Ariza had to step up and be the leader when he had been a role player his entire career. He was clearly not ready for that role.
In the McGrady trade, the Rockets landed Kevin Martin and Jordan Hill as the main attractions. The following summer, Morey decided to move on with Ariza and use Martin as his main scoring guard to pair with a returning Yao Ming in 2010. The Rockets traded Ariza to New Orleans in a four-team trade that brought in Courtney Lee.
Ariza went on to have some decent seasons for the Hornets and Washington Wizards. This past year, however, Ariza had a career year in the nation's capital, teaming up with John Wall and making a playoff run to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 boards last year, shooting a career-best 40.7 percent from behind the arc.
Ariza's recent success made him a hot commodity this offseason, gaining interest from up to nine different teams. He of course took a back seat to big names like LeBron and Melo, but in the end, he has reportedly agreed to a great deal to return to Houston.
This time around, things will be much different for Ariza and the Rockets.
The situation in Houston is much brighter than it was a few years ago. Instead of being the guy in the spotlight, this time Ariza will be the third or fourth option for the Rockets. He is teaming up with two elite superstars in Harden and Dwight Howard, who also have a solid supporting cast.
Last time around, the Rockets were a group of role players whose goal was to sneak into the playoffs. This time, Houston has its eyes on a championship, and Ariza will be a big part of achieving that.
The small forward is a good fit with the Rockets. He fills some areas of need for Houston, who bowed out in the first round at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers last season after high expectations.
Ariza is a great three-point shooter, which is something the Rockets will appreciate. Houston attempted more threes than any other team in the NBA last year, but shot a below-average percentage, so another sniper would come in handy. Ariza also fills the team's biggest need: perimeter defense.
The Rockets are not a good defensive team, although Howard helps tremendously in the paint. On the wings, however, Houston is as porous as Swiss cheese. Ariza brings them some much-needed perimeter defense and can shutdown some elite scoring guards and forwards from around the NBA.
Only time will tell if Houston's reunion with Ariza will go better than their first encounter, but it seems quite clear that with the direction this team is going in, Ariza and the Rockets are poised for a great run the next few years.
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