The big news for the Houston Rockets since the start of free agency is three-fold. First, they re-signed Chris Paul to a gargantuan 4-year, $160 million contract. They also brought back Houston native and fan favorite Gerald Green on the veteran’s minimum.
But perhaps the biggest news of the weekend was Houston’s failure to re-sign Trevor Ariza, as he went off to Phoenix on a 1-year, $15 million deal with the Suns.
A lot of people think the Rockets just got worse as a team. And while that may be so at the moment until they fill the spot, I still think it was the right move for Houston.
Team management has been pretty open about wanting to get some fresh blood into the lineup, and the 33-year-old, 14-year veteran Ariza has been showing some major signs of slippage in the past few seasons.
His defense, while still versatile, has clearly lost a step. And while he can still hit his spot-up threes, smart teams (see San Antonio last year and Golden State this year) have closed out on him hard, forcing him to put the ball on the floor and create off the dribble, which has seen disastrous results for the Rockets.
Ariza’s also been mostly hot garbage overall in the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. He shot 14 percent from deep and and 25 percent overall from the field in the 2016 playoffs. He was an astonishing -8.3 in offensive plus-minus. He played better in 2017, but was bad again in this year’s postseason. He shot 28 from three and 35 percent from the field and finished a -1.7 in offensive plus-minus.
The wear and tear on Ariza has been noticeable, especially playing 35 minutes per night and missing just 16 total games in the last four seasons combined. And while he’s been a positive locker room presence and joy to have in Houston and be a fan of, he’s clearly standing on the precipice of an even further decline.
It’s a cliche’, but they become cliche’s for a reason: it’s better to move on from a guy a season too soon than a season too late. It’s taking a page from the playbook of the NFL’s New England Patriots and Bill Belichik, and it just feel like the right time for Houston to move on. I think you’re about to see just how far Ariza has slipped now that he won’t be on the receiving end of perfect passes from James Harden and CP3 out on the perimeter all game long.
To that end, the Rockets already seem to have a replacement in mind. According to USA Today’s Kelly Iko, Houston is looking at making a move for Wilson Chandler of the Denver Nuggets. The Rockets were reportedly also interested in Chandler at this past year’s trading deadline, but couldn’t make a deal.
Should they make the move, the Rockets wouldn’t be getting incredibly youthful, as the 31-year-old Chandler is just two years younger than Ariza, but he has considerably more tread on his tires. For one, he has 10 seasons under his belt as opposed to 14 for Ariza, who was one-and-done in college. He’s also played just 11 postseason games as opposed to 102 for Ariza, so that’s essentially an entire extra season of wear on Ariza’s tires.
He’s also a much better offensive player than Ariza. His career scoring average of 13.5 points per game is 3.5 points more than Ariza and he also has a more varied offensive repertoire. Last season, 61 percent of his shots came from inside the three-point arc, as opposed to just 29 percent from Ariza.
And that isn’t to say that Chandler can’t hit the three. He’s a career 34 percent shooter from beyond the arc, and he hit 36 percent from deep last season, virtually identical to Ariza.
Sure, he’s not the defender Ariza is, even at the late stage of Trevor’s career, but if the Rockets can also re-sign Luc Mbah a Moute back at the mid-level exception, I think they’ll have more than enough versatility at the wing to mix-and-match with anyone.
Remember, defensive stalwart P.J. Tucker can also play the three, and if you also consider the newly-resigned Green, that would give the Rockets two defensive options and two offensive options at the position.
And if you recall, it wasn’t Houston’s defense that faltered on the them down the stretch against Golden State, it was their offense. It’s imperative that the Rockets incorporate another scorer into their lineup this coming season, and while Chandler isn’t exactly an elite scorer, he certainly brings more in that department than Ariza does at this point in his career.
As Jeremy mentioned in his his piece over the weekend, there are some other options out there, such as Arron Afflalo, JJ Redick and Wayne Ellington, though none seem to be quite the fit that Chandler is. Even though I’m enamored with the thought of Redick draining open threes in this Houston offense, I think Chandler’s more varied offensive ability brings more of what Houston really needs right now rather than just simply another spot-up shooter.
The Rockets also reportedly met with James Nunnally over the weekend, a Euro player who has developed a three-point shot and some defensive ability, but he’s likely just a depth guy if the Rockets are truly interested.
Nunnally shot 55% on 3-pointers (46/83) this past season in the EuroLeague, also 69% TS. He’s known to cause issues for scorers in Europe due to his length and athleticism. #Rockets https://t.co/gNA6F9sRXf— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) July 1, 2018
The tricky part is figuring out a trade package to get Chandler over to H-town. Chandler just opted in to his $12.8 million contract and Denver is desperate to move him in a deal to avoid a coming luxury tax issue, but it’s well-known that Houston has very little trade capital in the form of draft picks right now. And the Nuggets aren’t about to take Ryan Anderson in a deal if their goal is to cut salary.
If anyone can make it happen, however, it’s the reigning NBA Executive of the Year. But in the meantime, don’t fret over the loss of Switchblade. The Rockets went full Belichick in letting him go, and that’s almost always the right move.