The Rockets have agreed to sign unrestricted free agent forward Trevor Ariza to a four-year contract worth $32 million, SI.com's Chris Mannix has confirmed.
Ariza, 29, spent the last two seasons with the Wizards, and he enjoyed a career year in 2013-14, averaging 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 40.7 percent from outside. The 2004 second-round pick previously signed a five-year contract with the Rockets in 2009 but was later traded to the Hornets (now Pelicans) in 2010.
The agreement was first reported by USA Today Sports.
SI.com ranked Ariza at No. 17 on our "Top 25 Free Agents of 2014" list, noting the significant progress he's made as an outside shooter.
Houston opted for Ariza as a back-up plan once their pursuit of Chris Bosh ended with the All-Star forward re-signing with the Heat.
Assessing the TrevorAriza deal is no easy task, as it comes in the middle of a host of other moves that look questionable in sum. The Rockets have parted with Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik, and Jeremy Lin so far this offseason, with Ariza as the only major piece added back to their roster equation to date. Even when you factor in the draft picks involved and Houston's other minor moves around the edges, that exchange is clearly a net loss. So far, this summer's moves have dampens the excitement that quickly built around the franchise following the acquisitions of James Harden and Dwight Howard.
It's not Ariza's fault that Houston whiffed on Chris Bosh and other A-list talents with its available cap space, and he certainly can't be blamed for the Rockets' decision to allow Parsons to enter restricted free agency, where Houston's 2013-14 starting small forward was poached by the Mavericks with a surgical and lucrative offer sheet.
The most relevant factors in gauging the addition of Ariza are the size of his contract ($32 million over four years) and the size of Parsons' new deal ($46 million over three years). On a per-year basis, Ariza will make just over half of what Parsons will be paid, and a side-by-side comparison of their 2013-14 numbers confirms, to no one's great surprise, that Parsons just isn't double the player.
Ariza: 14.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, 46 FG%, 41 3P%, 16 PER, 8 Win Shares
Parsons: 16.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 47 FG%, 37 3P%, 16 PER, 8 Win Shares
It's worth noting that Ariza is coming off of a career year shooting-wise and that Parsons is four years younger, with an exciting amount of untapped potential. Even so, Houston's decision to swap Ariza in for Parsons looks like a reasonable one given the presence of two max players on their books. A third major salary would need to be reserved for a truly transcendent talent; Parsons hasn't been that player to date and, despite his continued improvement over the course of his career, there is sufficient reason to doubt that he has a superstar's ceiling.
Once the Rockets failed to land a third star, they likely viewed their big-picture flexibility as preferable to retaining Parsons with the hope that he could blossom into a player who would be capable of taking them over the hump. That's a painful, tough call, especially given Parsons' popularity with Houston's fan base, but it's also a logical approach that comes straight out of "Moneyball": Getting 80 percent of the player at 55 percent of the price should pay off in the long run.
Ariza's deal represents fair compensation compared to the other small forwards that signed this summer. He will be making less than LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng, Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons, but more than Paul Pierce, P.J. Tucker, Marvin Williams, Caron Butler, Mike Miller and Danny Granger. Most analysts would agree that his spot in the pecking order is exactly right.
The biggest problem with this agreement: The "What If" alternative realities. What if Parsons had simply been retained at his bargain basement price for another year? What if Bosh hadn't returned to Miami? What if another max talent, like Anthony, had really given Houston the time of day? Ariza's contract stacks up well against the other realities around the league, but it suffers against the many promising hypothetical situations that were available to Houston entering July.