Here is what we know.
The Rockets have signed Trevor Ariza to a deal worth $33.5 million over 5 years, assuming the 2009-2010 mid-level exception is set at $5.8 million.
We know that Ariza is going to start immediately. You don't pay $33.5 million dollars to "developing prospects." This is Ariza's chance to finally blossom into more than just a freaky athlete.
We know that Daryl Morey does more calculating than any one of us here. He didn't sign Ariza to respond to the Lakers. He didn't sign Ariza to appease the fans. He signed him because he thinks it is what's best for our team and for our future. With Daryl, you know that winning is the ultimate goal. He's not one of those "gut" GM's. Only after carefully looking at each and every possible scenario will Daryl pull the trigger. If this move backfires, it won't be because we wasted money or overpaid the guy. No blame will be placed on management. It will be because Ariza didn't fulfill his potential, potential that Morey deems to be worth 33 million dollars.
We know that we overpaid Ariza for his talents. He has done absolutely nothing in his five year career to merit such a huge contract. But we also know that we could afford to overpay Ariza, with the long-term in mind. Though we pay Ariza 5.8 million dollars per year, we only have a few other players locked up over the next couple of seasons. Aside from Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming (potentially), Luis Scola comes off the books in 2010. So do Brian Cook and Brent Barry. The next season, Shane Battier, Carl Landry, and James White will become free agents, with Joey Dorsey, Aaron Brooks, and Chuck Hayes receiving team options. In other words, we will have money to spend if we choose to do so.
We know that Ariza has plenty of room to grow, at least on the offensive end. For now, he can catch and shoot effectively, and when he gets to the rim, he can finish with the best of them. My main criticism of this deal is that we've never seen Ariza as the go-to guy on a team before. He has never had to create for himself, and he has never been the primary focus of an opposing defense. While that may be a logical criticism of Ariza, it is only because it has never been asked of him before. Maybe, when finally given his shot, he will produce like his three previous teams thought he could. We know he's up for the challenge. That's why he's here, and not in Cleveland.
To use an analogy, Von Wafer played on not three, but four teams before coming to Houston. He could never score more than 2.4 points per game for any of them. But once he was given a realistic shot at contributing, he practically kept our season alive in the midst of McGrady's troubles by scoring 10 points per game in limited minutes. Take all of that improvement-through-chance, and apply it to Trevor Ariza. As an important role player for the Lakers, Ariza scored 11.3 points per game in the playoffs. If he can score 11 points per game as a role player in Los Angeles, what will he be able to do in Houston? Will he have the same success, in terms of overall improvement, that Wafer had this season? It's a tough analogy to make, given what I wrote about all of that "creating offense" and "primary focus" hoopla earlier, but it's not a far-fetched idea. And just for the record, Ariza's entrance probably marks Wafer's exit.
We know that Ariza will only be asked to be a primary scorer for a single season. Come next season, he may be reduced to our third or fourth scorer, which would be a great role for him. This further leads to the idea that the Rockets are thinking down the line, and not just about next season.
We also know that we're going into a significant reloading mode. Not re-building, but re-loading. There is a difference, and it can be found after the jump.
To rebuild is to completely start over and forfeit at least three or four winning seasons. I think that this is a one-year project. We're not going to compete this season, and that's why we made the bigger offer to Ariza instead of to Ron Artest. Ariza is 23 years old. He has yet to enter into his prime. To keep Ron was to hurt the future. It would be an Astro-nomical move, if you get my drift.
Not only are injuries hurting our chances of competing next season, but every other Western Conference power is getting even stronger. Taking a backseat for one year is a smart move, given what has occurred in the last few days.
The Los Angeles Lakers picked up Artest, and whether you believe that it is a good fit or not, it certainly makes them better off than they were before.
San Antonio traded for Richard Jefferson, and then somehow found DeJuan Blair in the second round of the NBA draft. Rumor has it that they could be the frontrunners in the Rasheed Wallace sweepstakes.
Portland has agreed in principle with Hedo Turkoglu, which finally gives them the veteran presence that they desperately needed in the playoffs. I'm curious to see how they'll balance outHedo with Martell Webster, Rudy Fernandez, and Travis Outlaw, but they will figure something out.
Dallas finally got themselves a starting center in Marcin Gortat. He's certainly an upgrade over Erick Dampier.
Utah won't be going anywhere, as they held onto both Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer. They also picked up a talented young point guard in Eric Maynor to back up Deron Williams.
To put it simply, we'd have to have an 82-game miracle season in order to compete for a title, as opposed to a single Game 6 win over Los Angeles on our home floor. This upcoming season will be a season of development and experience. We're going to make sure that Ariza, Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Kyle Lowry, and our three rookie shooting guards get as much playing time as possible.
To re-load is to add some fresh pieces to the puzzle, to sacrifice a single season for the betterment of the next. Next year will not be a 50-win season. But it will be entertaining (White+Dorsey+Ariza = Dunkathon). And it will, above all else, be productive and worthwhile.
Once this season ends, we should be relatively active in the 2010 free agent sweepstakes. I've already heard rumors of us trying to acquire Chris Bosh from Toronto, but that's not happening. Maybe in 2010, but not now.
Speaking of trades, our decision to pay Ariza so much money has brought up a fuss about other potential deals. Will we move Shane Battier now that Ariza is on board? Will we make an attempt to get rid of Tracy McGrady's contract early? I have no clue, other than the fact that acquiring Ariza should not impact our decision on what to do with Tracy. He's going to expire in 2010 regardless of how much we pay Ariza. Nothing is going to change that.
I have a hunch that Morey is not done making moves just yet. Many analysts have stated that the Rockets feel comfortable with their current center situation, but our pursuit of Gortat negates that view. We'll be on the lookout for a new big man in the upcoming days and weeks. What remains to be seen is exactly when Morey decides to make another big splash. Will it be before the season, for a legitimate starting center or power forward (Amar'e, etc.)? Or will it come in February, at the trade deadline?
I shouldn't have to tell you who I'm referring to there.