By now, if you’re a capable Internet user, you’ve heard the talk – the Rockets again this offseason intend to be active in free agency. The names tossed about, as par for the course for Daryl Morey, are the two big fish at the top of the class: LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love. Unfortunately, barring some feat of cap gymnastics I have yet to conceive, any outgoing permutation suitable for a match would involve Trevor Anthony Ariza, Houston’s esteemed emotional leader. Is it worth it?
The examination requires various questions. First, we’re all in agreement that the Ariza role is definitively essential. Last year, at this time, I posed the question of whether the Parsons-Harden duo could go deep in the playoffs. The premise was that the team’s defense simply could not sustain the pressure of having two weak points at the wings. Through this past season’s results, that question has been unequivocally answered. I hate to mix causation with correlation, but let’s be real – Houston doesn’t even get past Dallas with that kind of ease without Ariza on the wing, much less make it all the way to the West Finals. We learned that you absolutely must pair James Harden with a stout defender at the ‘3’ to go deep. There just weren’t any other variables overwhelming enough to directly attribute to Houston’s success.
The question now becomes whether Ariza himself is replaceable.
First, can you even replace him? People toss around the ‘3 and D’ phrase nonchalantly as if these guys grow on trees, but how many of these players really exist? You can try and develop one, but we’re no longer in a phase to be waiting on player development at critical positions (see: Jones, Terrence).
But lets say you’re even able to replace him with another veteran wing – maybe K.J. McDaniels shows signs this summer of developing an outside shot. Is there something intrinsic to Ariza himself, after this run, that is indispensable? What is the value of continuity? I’m not really sure. It helps of course, to keep a group together; the value of chemistry cannot be overstated. But if you think someone else can replace that same production, how much are you really sacrificing, if it means the ability to also add an elite piece?
To me, it’s emotional. I, like every other fan, become attached to certain players, especially after a run like the one the Rockets just had. It’s important to disentangle those emotions from the raw, cold analysis, and that’s why Daryl Morey is paid the big bucks to make the decisions. I tell myself that the Rockets need Ariza next year because they’ll lose the experience they gained in giving up a vital cog who was part of the run. But in the end result, I don’t know how much that even matters.