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Houston Rockets: Replacing Trevor Ariza won’t be easy

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 16: Trevor Ariza #1 of the Houston Rockets exits the court after winning the game against the Golden State Warriors during Game Two of the Western Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 16, 2018 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 16: Trevor Ariza #1 of the Houston Rockets exits the court after winning the game against the Golden State Warriors during Game Two of the Western Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 16, 2018 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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After losing forward Trevor Ariza in free agency, the Houston Rockets are now tasked with replacing him, which won’t be easy.

When Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that Chris Paul would re-sign with Houston, Rockets fans around the world jumped for joy. But our happiness would soon turn into shock. Within 60 minutes, Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania tweeted that Trevor Ariza signed with the Phoenix Suns on a 1-year, $15 million deal.

Trevor Ariza played four seasons in Houston, appearing in at least 80 games three times. Ariza averaged 12.2 points and 5.1 rebounds on 35.7 percent shooting from 3-point range in his Houston tenure.

Ariza filled the 3-and-D role perfectly for the Rockets. He was a slasher in his younger days, but Ariza transformed himself into a good spot-up 3-point shooter. Ariza made 170 3-pointers last year, which was the 23rd most in the NBA and just three less than Kevin Durant.

Speaking of KD, Ariza always played great defense on the opposing team’s small forward. Ariza could matchup with bigger players like Durant or LeBron James and he could also guard quick point guards like Stephen Curry. His versatility is one reason the Rockets were so effective at switching everything on defense, which threw off the flow of their opponents’ offense.

Trevor Ariza was also a well-respected veteran on the team and he was the only player on last year’s Rockets roster that had a championship. He was the type of player that led with his actions on and off the floor.

The tunnel fight

Remember the post-game incident in the tunnel when the Rockets played the Clippers in Staples Center back in January? Trevor Ariza was one of the main players involved in that incident. During the game, Blake Griffin appeared to intentionally bump into Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. Austin Rivers also talked a lot of trash to Rockets’ players during the game.

Afterwards, Ariza, along with other Rockets players, headed to the Clippers’ locker room to send a message that they didn’t appreciate what transpired between the lines. Ariza and Gerald Green were eventually suspended for two games, but it definitely earned Ariza more respect in the locker room.

Ariza was willing to fight and risk being suspended without pay because an opponent disrespected the team. That showed everyone in Houston’s locker room that he was all in for the Rockets. That was Ariza, he was a leader in the locker room that was willing to sacrifice shots, or even pay, for the team.

This hurts the Rockets

Losing Trevor Ariza hurts the Rockets, unless they can find a solid replacement. Houston could have used Ariza’s Bird Rights to re-sign him. This would have allowed the Rockets to exceed their salary cap to pay Ariza.

Now that he’s gone, Houston is restricted to offering a taxpayer’s mid-level exception or minimum contract in order to replace Ariza. This limits the amount of talent that the Rockets can sign, because most good players don’t want to play for a discount. Although, there are a few solid veterans that could be willing to take a pay cut for a chance to win a championship.

It’s sad to see Ariza leave the Rockets for the Suns, but this was strictly a money move. Trevor Ariza made $7.4 million last year and he’s never had a big contract in his career. By signing a $15 million deal with Phoenix, Ariza basically doubled his salary.

Next: 15 best draft picks of all-time

Trevor Ariza already one a ring with the 2009 Lakers, so it’s understandable that he would choose money over playing for a contender. We wish Trevor Ariza nothing but the best for the remainder of his career.

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