It has been said that those who do not learn from their mistakes are destined to repeat them.
Enter Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
In the summer of 2009, his club was looking for help, specifically one of those new-fangled (at the time) 3-and-D wing players, a player who could both stretch a defense with his 3-point shooting ability while also helping to shut down opposing team’s perimeter threats.
Enter Trevor Ariza.
The small forward from UCLA had just completed his fifth NBA season and, having just turned 24 before the start of free agency, was likely to be joining his fourth different organization.
Ariza was also coming off of the best stretch of basketball he had ever played in his NBA career, averaging 11 points and six rebounds per game while knocking down 10-of-24 from 3-point range as the Los Angeles Lakers ripped the Orlando Magic in a five-game NBA Finals.
In the process, he had harassed Orlando’s point-forward, Hedo Turkoglu, all series long. That came after he helped hold Carmelo Anthony to just 40.7 percent shooting, including 25 percent from deep, in a six-game Western Conference Finals win over the Denver Nuggets.
Ariza had started only 20 games during the regular season for the Lakers, but was in the lineup for all 23 games during L.A.’s title run, averaging 11.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 steals in 31.4 minutes per game and hitting a stunning 47.6 percent of his shots from 3-point range in the postseason.
This from a player who was at the time a career 29.9 percent shooter from distance.
Morey saw an opportunity and he jumped, signing Ariza to a five-year, nearly $34 million deal.
The results were not good.
Ariza started 71 or 72 games for the Rockets in 2009-10, posting a player efficiency rating of just 13.3 (15 is average) as his true-shooting percentage fell from .544 in his final season with the Lakers to .488.
He averaged a career-high 36.5 minutes per game, took a career-high 13.9 shots per game, attempted a career-high 5.7 3-pointers per game … and shot 39.4 percent overall and 33.4 percent from deep.
His season averages of 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals were as much a product of increased playing time as any improvement on the court, as evidenced by his offensive rating dropping from 112 points per 100 possessions to 99.
But at least his defensive rating shot up from 102 points per 100 possessions to 106, so there was that.
Ariza was dumped on the New Orleans Hornets as part of a four-team trade in August 2010, a deal in which the Rockets wound up with shooting guard Courtney Lee’s much more palatable $1.4 million contract.
Ariza wasn’t terrible in New Orleans, averaging 10.9 points, 5.4 boards, 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 40.4 percent overall and 31 percent from long range over his two seasons.
He was a reserve during his first year in Washington, averaging 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, two assists and 1.3 steals in 26.3 minutes. He hit 41.7 percent overall and his 3-point shooting was a career-best 36.4 percent.
He emerged as a starter again in 2013-14—the final year of his contract—and, lo and behold, Ariza had a career year. He averaged 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 steals while playing 35.4 minutes a night. He shot career highs of 45.6 percent overall and 40.7 percent from 3-point range.
And as the Wizards pushed the Indiana Pacers to six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Ariza hit 44.6 percent from deep during the playoffs while grabbing almost nine rebounds per game.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me—this is another old standby that seems appropriate right about now.
Why is that? Well, that would be because Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com reported Saturday that the Rockets will sign Ariza to a four-year, $32 million contract.
Houston is still weighing whether or not it will match a three-year, $46 million offer sheet Chandler Parsons signed with the Dallas Mavericks and it appears Ariza is the fallback position should the Rockets opt to let Parsons walk.
Of course, if Houston matches Dallas’ offer, they’ll be stuck with two small forwards—each getting paid starter’s money—and would not be able to move Ariza until Dec. 15.
Morey always seems like a sharp fellow, ahead of the curve on the use of analytics in the NBA and pulling off the James Harden heist in October 2012.
But after being poisoned by the Trevor Ariza contract-year apple in 2009, Morey opted to take another bite five years later.
Wonder how it will taste this time around?