The New Orleans Hornets have to believe that Trevor Ariza is going to provide enough help to convince Chris Paul to stick it out with them instead of follow through on his trade request. That's really the only explanation for today's four-team trade, which saw the Hornets send out their best young asset and their Paul safety valve - Darren Collison - to acquire the 25-year old Ariza.
Can Ariza get the job done? That's the million dollar question, and right now, it's really hard for anyone to have a good idea of the answer.
It's hard to believe that Ariza is still just 25 years old, considering everything he's gone through in his NBA career. The Hornets will be his fifth NBA team, and on each of the five, he's be asked to play a completely different role. The Knicks drafted him as a promising second-round pick, then mostly used him as practice fodder. The Magic traded for him and used him as a jack-of-all-trades multi-purpose player, playing him at both wing positions and even sometimes at power forward in small-ball lineups. He was asked to jump, slash and defend, but not to shoot. Then, the Lakers acquired him and asked him to become a spot-up shooter, something he excelled at during the team's 2009 title run. Finally, Houston acquired him to be a featured scorer, something that worked out dreadfully last season.
How dreadfully? Ariza's per-game numbers look pretty good - 14.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game - but the way he got those stats was not. He shot just 39 percent from the field, with a true shooting percentage (a number that accounts for threes and free throws) of 48.8 percent. The only other forwards to post that low a true shooting percentage in that many minutes were Kenyon Martin and Yi Jianlian. In layman's terms, I'm saying that Ariza's numbers are deceiving because he took a lot of shots to get his points.
But we know Ariza can excel in some roles. He was an excellent role player for the 2009 Lakers, defending every key wing player and hitting timely three-pointers, especially in the playoffs. He also did some excellent things for the Magic, turning in an underrated 2006/07 season (14.3 points and 7 rebounds/36 minutes, with a 16.2 PER and a 56.7% true shooting percentage). In the right situation, he can play and be worth what he was paid by the Rockets last summer.
Is New Orleans that situation? Ariza's success in 2009 came when he was the fourth or fifth option on an up-tempo team that didn't need him to dribble much. In New Orleans, Ariza will likely be the fourth option, behind Chris Paul, Chris Paul and Chris Paul (or, more accurately, Paul, David West and Emeka Okafor). He won't need to dribble much, because Paul is there. But he's not a fourth option like he was in LA, and the Hornets are probably going to need him to create his own offense a lot. In addition, the Hornets are also traditionally a slow-paced team, thanks in large part to coaching, but also because Paul himself wasn't always willing to push the pace. He'd rather pick you apart in the halfcourt, which separates him in part from Deron Williams, a PG always willing to run. Can Ariza thrive in that kind of setting? That's going to be a key question that the Hornets need to figure out going forward.
For that unknown, the Hornets gave up Collison, arguably their best young player. Right now, that seems like a hefty price to pay, and it probably is. But perhaps they felt Collison's value would never be higher with Paul coming back. If so, that's true, but it's still a price to pay for a real unknown like Ariza.
At the end of the day, the Hornets are clearly trying to tell Paul they want to build around him, and that should be commended. But is Ariza the right guy to make that vision happen? The jury is still out, and now, the Hornets really have no backup plan if it doesn't work.
As for the other teams...
- Indiana makes out like bandits. They've been desperately seeking a young point guard, and all they needed to do to get one was to deal Troy Murphy, a good player, but not one in their future. They will have a little less cap space to play with next year, but it's worth it for a player of Collison's caliber. (Think of it this way - they're basically paying the mid-level exception - Posey's 2011/12 salary - for one year to get Collison. I'd do that in a heartbeat). Collison will have to answer whether he can succeed in a system that doesn't favor the point guard, so this isn't a slam dunk, but it's a very positive step for a Pacers team that needs young talent.
- New Jersey did well to rent a good veteran big man in Murphy that can keep the power forward position warm for one year as Derrick Favors gets ready. Losing Courtney Lee is also no big deal because of the offseason signing of Anthony Morrow. However, my concern is that coach Avery Johnson will overvalue Murphy and stunt Favors' development by overusing the veteran. Murphy is a good player, but we know what he is at this point, and the Nets are building for the long term. Johnson has to remember that Favors' development is more important to the franchise that squeezing the maximum on-court value out of Murphy.
- Houston saves a boatload of money ($10 million this year, if you account for the luxury tax savings) in acquiring Lee for Ariza, and clears up more time for Shane Battier and Chase Budinger. At the same time, with Kevin Martin firmly entrenched at shooting guard, Lee won't play a lot. Also, with Battier departing next year, they'll need a small forward in the long term. That was what Ariza was supposed to be. Now, they need to shop for another one. Still, you have to commend Daryl Morey for sensibly admitting his mistake and pocketing some much-needed luxury tax savings.