Like all of you, I am surprised by Trevor Ariza signing a four-year, $32 million deal with the Houston Rockets. I was mentally prepared for life after Ariza, especially because the Wizards seemed committed to their final number. But this isn't the resolution I expected, not after reports of Ariza hoping to command an eight-figure salary next season from any loser of the LeBron James/Carmelo Anthony derby.
The players in Las Vegas seemed surprise too. As Mike told me, Al Harrington, an assistant coach for the Summer League team, said "I can't believe it" while walking by a media scrum. Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. both learned of the news separately as they walked off the floor. Sam Cassell wouldn't answer any Ariza questions, saying he was only talking about Summer League.
There's a major absence of information here, but there are a lot of questions.
What was Ariza's real price on the market?
Ariza made $7.7 million last season, and he'll be making right around $8 million over the next four seasons. This isn't the type of contract-year stuff we were all hung up over as the year wore on. He got significantly less than what was anticipated, and in a market that saw Jodie Meeks go for $19 million over three years and Nick Young for $21 million over four seasons.
It's possible that we gave Trevor too much credit. The improvements he made in Washington were substantial. He tweaked his jumper to give him more lift, and he sped up his follow through to make him an effective catch-and-shoot player. I never bought into the contract-year hype because he proved to be an elite spot-up shooter for more than just one season.
But this was a very specific role he played in Washington, and it would be hard to replicate it anywhere else. Houston offers the same advantages because they have an attacking guard capable of rifling passes into the corners, but many of his other suitors do not, and that factored into his market value. His agent did his part in driving up that value, probably to get the Wizards to cave. But it seemed like Ernie Grunfeld knew something we didn't, hence why reports came out about Washington holding firm at close to $9 million a year.
If we're talking about getting the best bang for your buck, Ariza's latest contract is at the top of the list so far this offseason.
Why didn't Ariza accept Washington's offer?
This is the biggest question. Wizards management was understandably concerned about Ariza's price because it had luxury-tax implications this year and beyond, but as it turns out, Ariza took way less than the projected $10-12 million many, including NBA.com's David Aldridge had anticipated.
According to league sources, #wizards offered same deal to Trevor Ariza as HOU. Big (almost $3 mil) difference? No state income tax in Texas— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) July 12, 2014
The benefits of going to the Rockets are obvious. There's no state income tax in Texas, which is huge for a player seeking his last big payday. This was a huge factor in Ariza turning down the same deal the Wizards offered. He's going to a team he's familiar with and to a contender no less. He'll immediately come in and do exactly what he did last season. He may not be playing with John Wall anymore, but he'll be headed to a much more potent offense with two of the best offensive threats in basketball.
If you're asking why he preferred Houston over Washington, you're asking the wrong questions. The Wizards brass has to look in the mirror and realize he longed for stability. All along, it seemed like the Wizards were negotiating from a position of weakness. They had no idea what to think of Otto Porter, nor do they know when Martell Webster will return to 100 percent, if he ever does.
But on the flip side, there's a real possibility that Ariza simply didn't want to constantly look over his shoulder. What he provided last season -- elite spot-up shooting and great defense -- was essential, but also replaceable. Porter didn't look the part in his limited time as a rookie, but this is what he was drafted to do. Sometimes it's simply not enough to provide contractual stability. Ariza wants to contend and prefers the situation in Houston, and that was enough to sway him.
Where Washington goes from here
Summer League won't be enough to justify thrusting Porter into the starting lineup. The Wizards will be in pursuit of a stopgap along the wings, and they have pletny of balls in the air. This was the risk management took in putting all their eggs in the Ariza basket. They're disappointed that they couldn't secure a deal with him and are left scrambling to find his replacement.
But they also will attempt to be responsible not to add long-term commitments. The Summer of Kevin Durant is very much on this organization's mind, which is why they weren't willing to give Ariza significant money.
That won't be easy. They've talked to several free agents, many of which aren't known to the public, but many are getting snatched up quickly now that LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have made their decisions. Luol Deng is a name floated, but that seems very unlikely because they do not have the cap space and the Cavaliers have already renounced his rights complicating a sign and trade. They also have other needs to figure out.
But as Mike said, the Wizards will recover. Nobody is happy Ariza left, but he has the right to make the choice he did. Now it's time for the Wizards to move on.