Now that Trevor Ariza has agreed to sign with the Phoenix Suns, the Houston Rockets will turn their attention to filling the hole that he left on the roster.
The Houston Rockets had a lot of players entering free agency this offseason and we knew it would be difficult to retain them all. Unfortunately, the Rockets lost a good one.
According to Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania, Trevor Ariza agreed to a 1-year, $15 million deal with the Phoenix Suns.
This isn’t catastrophic for Houston, but it’s still a big loss. Ariza was the guy that always defended the opponents’ best perimeter player. He was also one of Houston’s most prolific 3-point shooters, nailing 170 triples last season. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Ariza won a championship with the Lakers in 2009. He was the only player on the team that had championship experience.
With Houston’s salary cap situation, they’re limited to what they can spend. Outside of offering a taxpayer’s mid-level exception or minimum contract, it will be difficult for the Rockets to sign a very good player as a free agent.
Assuming Houston re-signs Luc Mbah a Moute, he can easily replace Ariza’s defense, but he isn’t a scorer. The Rockets don’t have to find a player that is similar to Ariza, but they should look for a forward or big guard that can contribute as a scorer either as a starter or off the bench. Let’s take a look at five replacement options for Trevor Ariza.
Next: No. 5
5. Wayne Ellington
The Man with the Golden Arm. Wayne Ellington isn’t a good option to replace Ariza as Houston’s starting small forward, but he’d be great coming off of the bench.
Wayne Ellington is an elite 3-point shooter who has really found his groove in Miami over the last two years. Last season, Ellington averaged a career high 11.2 points per game. He also jacked up 7.5 3-pointers per game in just 26.5 minutes of playing time, nailing 39.2 percent of his shots.
Ellington isn’t known for his defense, but he can definitely replace Ariza’s scoring. Similar to J.J. Redick or Ray Allen, Ellington excels at running off of screens to create airspace for his 3-point shots. This special skill set could give Mike D’Antoni a nice little change of pace to his iso-heavy offense.
Last season, Ellington nailed 36.8 percent of his 3s when a defender was defending him tightly (within 2-4 feet). So James Harden and Chris Paul wouldn’t have to create open looks for Ellington for him to score. When the defense leaves him wide open, Ellington is basically automatic.
A 3-point heavy offense like Houston’s is perfect for Ellington’s skill set. If the Rockets sign Wayne Ellington, they might break their 3-point record again.
Next: No. 4
4. Lance Stephenson
On June 25, Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania announced that the Pacers declined Lance Stephenson’s $4.3 million option. He is now a free agent.
Stephenson is a fan favorite in Indiana. He plays hard-nosed defense, enjoys throwing fancy passes and he excels at getting in the heads of his opponents (remember when he blew in LeBron James‘ ear?)
Last season, Stephenson averaged 9.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 22.6 minutes off of the bench. Earlier in his career, Stephenson played meaningful minutes in a lot of big games.
In the 2012-13 season and 2013-14 season, Lance Stephenson started as a shooting guard for an Indiana team that made the Eastern Conference Finals in consecutive seasons. If it weren’t for LeBron, Dwyane Wade and the stacked Miami Heat, Indiana would have likely made the Finals at least once.
Stephenson is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, which gives him the size to play both guard and small forward. He can handle the rock, he’s a solid finisher and he loves to get his teammates involved. Stephenson’s biggest downside is that he is just a 30.3 percent career shooter from 3-point range, so he could be an odd fit in Houston’s 3-point heavy offense.
Next: No. 3
3. Rodney Hood
In the early part of last season, Rodney Hood was playing very well for Utah. He was averaging career highs in points (16.8) and 3-point percentage (38.9). Then, Utah sent Hood to Cleveland at the trade deadline and everything fell apart.
Eventually, Hood fell out of Cleveland’s rotation and he even refused to enter Game 4 of the second round of the playoffs. Hood later apologized and the team didn’t discipline him. Surprisingly, the Cavs plan to match offers for Hood, who is a restricted free agent, according to Sean Deveney of Sporting News.
Even if the report is true, the Rockets should still make an offer for Hood. Rodney Hood looked like a failed experiment in his time in Cleveland, which means his market value has plummeted. He could potentially be a huge steal for the Rockets.
Hood is a 6-foot-8 player with very long arms, which gives him a ton of defensive versatility. He can handle the ball and create his own shot, which is a coveted skill set for a player of his size. With his ability to excel on offense and defense, he could play big minutes for Houston.
Next: No. 2
2. Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler isn’t a free agent in this offseason, so the Rockets would have to acquire him through a trade. There could be a possibility that Minnesota would trade him for the right pieces.
Apparently, Jimmy Butler isn’t so sure about playing with Andrew Wiggins. Butler is concerned with Wiggins’ “work ethic and his approach on the defensive end of the floor,” according to Sporting News’ Sean Deveney.
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Also, Darren Wolfson of KSTP said Wiggins has told teammates that he isn’t thrilled about being the third banana behind Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. If these reports are true, the Wolves might have to get rid of either Butler or Wiggins eventually.
Wiggins just signed a 5-year, $146.5 million extension with the Wolves last summer, so it’ll be hard to trade him. Butler on the other hand, could potentially be on the move.
Since Houston missed out on Paul George, Jimmy Butler would be the next best thing. Butler isn’t as good of an outside shooter as George, but he is better at getting to the free throw line and he is also a better passer.
Butler is one of the premier two-way players in the NBA and would be a great addition to Houston’s roster for the right price.
Next: No. 1
1. LeBron James
Obviously, LeBron James is the best free agent on the market. At 33 years old, he had one of his best seasons last year. The King averaged 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and a career high 9.1 assists last season.
Before free agency, LeBron decided to opt out of his contract and enter free agency. This hurt Houston’s chances at landing the star, as their best bet would’ve been for James to opt in and force a trade to Houston.
It isn’t impossible for the Rockets to sign LeBron, but Houston will have to get rid of a lot of salaries in order to have enough cap space for James, which could weaken the team.
Although, if Houston has a shot to get LeBron, they have to take it. A core of LeBron, James Harden and Chris Paul would give the Rockets three of the top 10 players in the NBA. LeBron has a lot of options in free agency, including the Lakers, Sixers and of course the Cavaliers. Hopefully, the thought of playing with his buddy CP3 and the opportunity to win a championship can lure LeBron to Houston.