By Mike Silva
The Houston Rockets remain active this summer with their most recent move the trade of Trevor Ariza in order to take a chance on Courtney Lee.
Part of a four-team, five-player deal that included the New Orleans Hornets, the Indiana Pacers, the New Jersey Nets, and the Rockets, Ariza was shipped off to New Orleans with Lee coming to Houston. The Pacers got Darren Collison and James Posey from the Hornets and Troy Murphy went to the Nets.
At first glance, giving up Ariza for Lee doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Ariza averaged 14.9 points, with 5.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game last year while Lee averaged 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game. The only stats that play into Lee’s favor are his 43.6% shooting to Ariza’s 39.4%, and the big discrepancy in free throw shooting between the two (86.9% vs. 64.9%).
Age doesn’t play a factor in this trade either. Ariza is just a few months older than Lee and has four extra years of experience on him. Ariza, standing at 6′8″, 210 lbs., is also a bigger, stronger player than Lee at 6′5″, 200 lbs.
Lastly, Ariza was part of the L.A. Lakers 2009 championship team. The same team that defeated the Orlando Magic in the Finals. Courtney Lee’s Magic, that is.
So basically, the Rockets lose a bigger guy with a championship ring who has more experience and slightly better numbers. So why does this move make sense?
The main, obvious reason why this trade went through was for financial relief. By exchanging Ariza for Lee, the Rockets will save close to $10 million in salary and luxury tax. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Houston will go out and grab another player before the season starts, but now they have more options and some financial freedom for when the time comes to add someone else.
With Ariza leaving, Battier will take over once again as their starting small forward, with Chase Budinger coming off the bench. Had Ariza stayed, Battier and the emerging Budinger would have split time off the bench. Seeing as the Rockets are big on Budinger and fond of his vast improvements, this would have created a big lineup headache.
Another idea to keep in mind is the role Ariza had and that which Lee will have upon coming to Houston. Ariza was looked at as a guy who could possibly come in and be Tracy McGrady’s successor. While virtually all of his numbers were the best of his career last season, it’s safe to say Ariza’s numbers weren’t those of a number one guy. Besides, Kevin Martin kind of took over as Houston’s number one when he came on in February. So essentially, why not save $10 million on an adequate complement by taking Lee over Ariza?
The Rockets don’t lose much by taking Lee over Ariza. Rockets GM Daryl Morey is a big fan of Lee and has pursued him for years dating back to the 2008 NBA Draft. When Houston couldn’t get Lee then, they tried to trade for him in Orlando before he joined the Nets. So now, finally, Morey has his man.
“We really like him,” Morey said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. “He’s a really balanced player defensively at two spots, maybe three. He’s a very good cutter, a very good shooter and has a very high basketball IQ.”
Lee is a player that can produce and flourish in his position with Houston. He is a good shooter who can also get to the rim and actually make a high percentage of his foul shots. He will be to Houston what Kyle Lowry already is: a solid role player who can make big contributions to winning.
To sum it up, Houston saves $10 million by taking a player with a lot of potential, who fits perfectly into Coach Rick Adelman and the Rockets system, that makes a lot of roster sense.
Though the Rockets will lose some experience and a few extra stats, they will save millions and have gained a solid complementary player who will thrive in his role.