NEW ORLEANS - NOVEMBER 17: Trevor Ariza #1 of the New Orleans Hornets dunks the ball during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the New Orleans Arena on November 17 2010 in New Orleans Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
In the August and September lulls, we're going to use this space on every Wednesday to revisit a particular Daryl Morey move. First up? The Trevor Ariza signing.
The summer of 2009 was a rough time to be a Rockets fan. The news that Yao's foot wasn't healing properly had just come out, Tracy McGrady was still recovering from microfracture surgery, and Ron Artest was headed out of town.
The "Big Three" that Morey had brought together just one year earlier had now been destroyed in just months. Though the potential for Yao to come back still remained, the Rockets had to turn their attention to planning for the future. With that in mind, they first targeted Marcin Gortat, the backup center for the Magic who flourished in limited minutes behind Dwight Howard.
With Gortat apparently headed to Dallas, the Rockets shifted their focus to Trevor Ariza, a player who figured prominently in the Lakers' playoff run. Having just celebrated his 25th birthday, Ariza seemed like a great target for a squad that may be facing a rebuilding effort if Yao couldn't get healthy again.
As the season started, it was clear that Ariza wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to become a first or second option on the Rockets. And for about a week, that was exactly what the Rockets needed, as Ariza was shooting well and scoring efficiently.
However, when the shots stopped falling with consistency, Ariza didn't seem to want to change his ways. He continued tossing up ill-advised three pointers, and seemed to get more frustrated by the day. Despite a strong stretch over the last two months of the season, the final numbers weren't pretty: 39% shooting from the field, 33% from three point distance, and 65% from the free throw line. He proved to be a solid defender, but it was clear that he was never going to be a primary option offensively.
With the prospect of being tied down by his contract for four more years scaring Morey, the Rockets looked to trade him the next summer and came out of the deal with Courtney Lee, who had a contract some $4 million lighter and an ego 1/4th the size of Ariza's.
After overpaying Ariza in perhaps the biggest evaluation gaffe of his career, Morey managed to negate that mistake and turn Ariza into a cheap bench player and spot starter in Courtney Lee. So yes, Morey probably shouldn't have signed Ariza to that five year deal, but all's well that ends well.
It's a dangerous game paying premium money for unproven players in free agency, but it was one Morey was willing to play again this year with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. Though I doubt Lin will ever be traded, Asik is a guy that could be easily moved to a contender even if he disappoints next year. Two years and $16 million is next to nothing for centers in the NBA, and Morey will have no problem passing Asik off to a team in need of another big man even if his per-minute statistics don't reflect how he plays in big minutes this season.
And if Asik succeeds, the Rockets have found themselves a young center for the future. That's the beauty of signing young players to free agency deals.
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