The Houston Rockets have had an eventful offseason. Whether their moves have been for the better or worse is a loaded, lengthy debate—but one thing’s obvious.
They've lost three key players, and they’ll need others to step in and fill some of the holes they've left. Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin aren’t walking through that door next season. So who do the Rockets have in tow to help us forget them?
Ariza was originally signed straight up, but he was eventually made part of a three-team trade that also involved Asik. From Rotoworld:
The deal will go down as a three-team trade that sends Asik, Omri Casspi and $1.5 million to New Orleans, Trevor Ariza, Alonzo Gee, Scotty Hopson, and New Orleans' protected first-round pick in 2015 to Houston, and Melvin Ely and a $8.5 million trade exception to Washington. Asik only averaged 5.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in 2013-14, but he should serve a solid late-round pick with his numbers poised to see a boost in New Orleans.
Ariza is expected to replace Parsons as the starting small forward for Houston and will give the position a different look for his former and new team.
Ariza is a huge upgrade defensively. Parsons, like teammates James Harden and Terrence Jones, was often a sieve on the wing last year. Too much of his attention was on gambling for steals, and he lost his man for a lot of easy opportunities.
Ariza has championship experience as a role player with the Los Angeles Lakers. And with the Washington Wizards last year, he was glue for one of the harshest perimeter defenses in the league. He knows who he is: a three-and-D specialist the Rockets badly need.
Ariza shot a shade higher of a percentage than Parsons from beyond the stripe last season (.41 to .37) but isn’t the same caliber of personal shot creator. That’s alright, though: The Rockets need a defender more than they need another gunner right now. Dividing possessions between Harden and Dwight Howard will be tough enough, and if Ariza can mostly find his shots as a floor-spacing shooter, it will be huge for his new team.
Fans should be pleased with the signing of Ariza, despite the emotional hurt of losing Parsons to the rival Mavericks. Ariza is a less splashy name, but there’s a good chance he’s the better player for this particular time in the Rockets’ evolution. Even Howard seems to thinks so:
There will be no replacing the workhorse machine of Asik this season. Having two starting-quality centers was a rich luxury the Rockets enjoyed last year with both Asik and Howard, and now it’s over. It was never to be maintained, as the Rockets always wanted to redistribute Asik's money elsewhere instead of having outstanding center depth. Now he's been traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, for a protected first-round draft choice.
Donatas Motiejunas is next in line for Houston. There’s essentially no chance he can bring the defense and rebounding to the table that his Turkish predecessor did—it’s simply not his style. Despite being a 7-footer, “D-Mo” plays more like a wing. He has exceptional vision, mobility and passing skills, but he can’t consistently get position against other centers in the paint.
The ideal vision here has Motiejunas blossoming as himself—not as an Asik clone. That’s just not feasible. Motiejunas' ceiling could be as a player like former perimeter-friendly big man Mehmet Okur, of the Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons. Howard will almost certainly have less relief against bigger-bodied teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers next season.
But Motiejunas could be integral to a second Rockets look. His unusual big-man skills might be quite useful in Houston’s penchant to push the ball and score tons of three-pointers and layups. Stay tuned.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey moved Lin’s contract to the Lakers when he was on the precipice of signing Miami Heat All-Star Chris Bosh. When Bosh turned around and re-signed with the Heat, Lin’s sendoff instantly became the biggest smudge on Morey’s offseason work. Morey also attached a first-round pick in the deal, compounding the loss of Lin at no return and leaving the Rockets without point guard depth in 2014-15.
But that stain could more easily remove with the arrival of one overlooked Rockets youngster: Isaiah Canaan.
Canaan has tremendous upside. A 23-year-old from Murray State, he simply hasn’t had his chance yet with the Rockets. Canaan is a born scorer. He’s quick with the ball and very comfortable creating for himself and shooting off the dribble. While it’s very unlikely he’ll be an equivalent defender to Patrick Beverley, who’s starting ahead of him in the depth chart, Canaan may be able to approximate Lin’s offensive production in time.
The flip side, of course, is that Canaan doesn't pan out. Like Motiejunas, his potential is still unknown.
The Rockets got a good one in Ariza and have lost less than the naked eye suggests from an assets perspective. But without the breakthrough of Canaan, Motiejunas or both, Houston will have sacrificed considerable depth this year. It’s time for Rockets fans to cross their fingers and hope for one of Morey’s less highlighted skills to shine through: his long-term scouting.