Last summer, every free agent's decision seemed to revolve around LeBron James' (second) decision. Or, it at least felt that way in Houston. The word was if LeBron went back to Cleveland, Miami big man and the ultimate stretch four Chris Bosh would sign with Houston, and at that point, the Rockets would match the Dallas Mavericks offer sheet for Chandler Parsons. Houston was about to have one of the best, if not the best, starting 5s in the league with Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Parsons, Bosh, and Dwight Howard.
Then almost none of that happened.
Chris Bosh spurned the Rockets. Daryl Morey refused to match on Parsons. And now suddenly Houston was scrambling. They signed Trevor Ariza because, frankly, they had to.
This led to tons of unwarranted comparisons of Parsons and Ariza for most of the next season. In my mind, they're two completely different players who bring completely different skill sets to their teams. The similarities stop at them both being able to shoot from the outside.
And that's exactly what Ariza did all season long, but never better than in his first games back with the Rockets. With the whole team healthy, Harden would command so much focus from defenses that Ariza was able to get open shot after open shot. His ability to spot up was vital to the team's success, but even more important than that was his defense.
The Rockets now had three great defenders in their starting lineup, when they were healthy. With Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza controlling the backcourt and Dwight in the middle, Houston went from a team that was seemingly all offense to one of the most efficient defenses in the league in one summer.
It was no longer a death sentence to play LeBron or Durant, or even the better shooting guards in the league. Ariza was exactly what the Rockets needed defensively. He didn't just make the Rockets' defense at the small forward position stronger, but he helped change the mindset of the team.
Of course, as Rockets got injured and Ariza's usage went up, his averages subsequently went down. There were periods of time where Trevor struggled shooting and we could all tell we were expecting too much out of him. Between game 9 and game 31, Ariza played 40 minutes or more 13 times and only played less than 35 minutes four times. It was an issue we all knew the Rockets were going to have to deal with at some point: the bench needed to get stronger.
Then Josh Smith and Corey Brewer came to town, and good Ariza was back. Being able to rest more made him infinitely more dependable. By the end of the year, Ariza averaged 12.8 points per game and added almost 2 steals per game. He wasn't the athlete that helped Kobe win a ring anymore, but he was necessary to the Rockets success and he filled his role incredibly well, and he did so for a helluva lot less money than Chandler Parsons.
Almost every one of Ariza's season averages went up during the Rockets' playoff run. He averaged more points on a better percentage shooting, more rebounds, more assists, and almost as many steals (1.9 regular season/ 1.8 playoffs). He made shots when he needed to against Dallas. He was obviously a huge part of the Game 6 comeback in Los Angeles. Yet, his most impressive series was easily against Golden State as he shot about 40% from three in 5 games. The Warriors were the better team, and the Rockets could've done a lot of things differently, but none of them would be to change Ariza.
A lot of the same can be expected out of Trevor Ariza in the 2015-2016 season. With Brewer coming off the bench for 82 games, and possibly the extra help in the third string from Sam Dekker, Ariza should get just enough time to rest and just enough usage to be as effective as possible. That, plus the added bonus of roster continuity coming back with almost the exact same team (besides, of course, the guy who will also be able to find him open in the corner, Ty Lawson) should all add up to another great year from Ariza.
I refuse to compare he and Chandler Parsons, production-wise. I don't think it's a useful question to ask. Obviously we could sit here and speculate on what would have been with that hypothetical starting 5, but I'm happy with the starting 5 we had last season, and I'm happy with the starting 5 we have now. And I'm very happy that Trevor Ariza is a part of both.