Houston Rockets Bank $32 Million on Better 2nd Go-Round with Trevor Ariza

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2014

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If at first you don't succeed with Trevor Ariza, try paying him $32 million over the course of four years and see if it goes any better.

That seems to be the operating logic for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who—according to USA Today's Sam Amick—has arrived at a lucrative agreement with the small forward.

The 29-year-old most recently played for the Washington Wizards last season, averaging 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest. The real selling point, however, came in the playoffs when Ariza made 44.6 percent of his three-point attempts.

During the first round, he nailed six three-pointers en route to 30 points in a pivotal Game 4 win against the Chicago Bulls. He then made all six three-point attempts in Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers during the conference semifinals before coming back down to earth.

Strong postseason performances have been known to inflate a player's free-agent value.

In fact, it was Ariza's impressive 2008-09 playoff outing with the Los Angeles Lakers that helped him land his first deal with the Houston Rockets, a five-year, $34-million pact in 2010.

After averaging just 8.9 points during that regular season with Los Angeles, Ariza averaged 11.3 points in the playoffs, making an impressive 49.7 percent of his field-goal attempts (including an even more impressive 47.6 percent success rate from beyond the three-point arc). The Lakers went on to win the championship that season, placing the UCLA product's breakout performance on the biggest of stages.

Sensing untapped potential, the Rockets pounced on the opportunity to sign Ariza in 2009.

Though he was productive in his first—and only—campaign for the Rockets (14.9 points per contest), he was anything but efficient. Cast in a role larger than the one he occupied in LA, the swingman shot just 39.4 percent from the field in 2009-10. He made just 33.4 percent of the 5.7 three-point attempts he took per game.

That's a lot of missed three-pointers.

Houston asked Ariza to do too much. Yao Ming was out for the season, and the Rockets quickly traded Tracy McGrady to the New York Knicks. The remaining hodgepodge of role players was a far cry from the star-studded core Ariza had supported in Los Angeles.

HOUSTON - JANUARY 19:  Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady of the Houston Rockets look on during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Toyota Center on January 19, 2009 in Houston, Texas.  The Rockets won 115-113.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and ag
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Originally drafted by the New York Knicks in 2004, Ariza ended up on his fifth team in 2010—the New Orleans Hornets—in a four-way trade that also involved the Indiana Pacers and then-New Jersey Nets.

Ariza's efficiency remained uneven over the course of the next three seasons, including his first with the Wizards in 2012-13.

It wasn't until last season—a contract year—that Ariza really re-blossomed.

As CBSSports.com's Zach Harper explains:

Trevor Ariza has had a fantastic couple of seasons with the Washington Wizards as his role was dimmed down and the team asked him to do much less than when he was with the Houston Rockets. He's provided solid defense on the perimeter for them and turned into a deadly 3-point shooter last season when he made over 40 percent of his attempts from long distance.

Ariza should play a similarly complementary role in Houston with James Harden and Dwight Howard getting their shares of the touches.

This is a quintessential three-and-D acquisition for the Rockets. Ariza is a borderline stopper with all kinds of length, and he still has the requisite athleticism and shooting ability to contribute to Houston's high-octane offense.

Without the pressure of spearheading the offense, there's little doubt Ariza will take better shots than he did in 2010. That should translate into numbers that more or less resemble his latest run in Washington—in theory anyway.

The reality remains that Ariza has had an up-and-down career, the kind that might make you think twice about extending him a hefty four-year contract that will carry him into his 30s.

But in this market, that contract was arguably below value.

The Washington Post's Michael Lee reports, "According to people with knowledge of the Wizards’ thinking, the team was unwilling to give Ariza the annual eight-figure salary that he demanded and believed the Rockets would've matched an offer had they chosen to go up to $9 million."

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

That suggests Ariza was originally looking for at least $10 million annually. He may have been willing to take less in part because Texas doesn't have a state income tax (and in part because the Rockets are on the verge of contending for a title).

"We're disappointed," said Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld, per Lee. "We made our very best offer. He elected to go elsewhere. We wish him the best."

Whether the robust contract is worth it depends principally on what happens next.

Though Ariza doesn't have to be a star, he has to be consistent. His success will also be judged by Houston's success. This team's defense isn't as bad as it looks on face value (the 44.3 percent field-goal percentage allowed to opponents ranked seventh league-wide), but it clearly needed some help in the club's first-round meeting with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Ariza won't have to worry about making the playoffs this time around with the Houston Rockets. He'll be judged by what happens when he gets there. A little defensive effort and some timely three-balls could go a long way in making this contract look like a good one.

Those who ignore history are indeed doomed to repeat it, but the Rockets' needs are different now. This isn't the 2010 team in search of a savior.

A good role player will do just fine.


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