February 23, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) dribbles the ball as Washington Wizards small forward Trevor Ariza (1) defends in the fourth quarter at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 105-103. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets; Trevor Ariza Gives Rockets A Formidable Starting 5

After failing to recruit any big-name free agents this off-season, the Houston Rockets reverted to bringing back former Rocket Trevor Ariza, according to Sam Amick of USA Today. Ariza will undoubtedly start at small forward in place of Chandler Parsons, and his presence will help salvage the Rockets’ loss of key contributors such as Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, and Chandler Parsons.

While Parsons had a respectable year for the Rockets last season, it became less feasible that the Rockets trio, consisting of Dwight Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons, could ever win together, especially after the Portland Trail Blazers ousted them in the first round of the playoffs last May. The Rockets needed to shake things up, and the signing of Ariza may prove to be a pivotal move for the Rockets’ championship aspirations in the next several years.

Offensively, Ariza isn’t the shot-creator or play-maker that Parsons is, but he’s a superior long-range shooter. The Rockets’ offensive philosophy revolves around bombing shots from deep; however, despite the fact that they led the league in 3-pointers attempted, their efficiency from downtown is merely mediocre.

Ariza’s shooting prowess from beyond the arc will certainly help ameliorate Houston’s success rate from that area on the court; he shot 40.7 percent on 5.7 attempts from 3-point range, compared to 37 percent on 4.7 attempts for Parsons. Trevor Ariza’s first bout in Houston was a struggle, primarily because he was tasked with the responsibility of being a go-to scorer, and that’s not the kind of player he is.

His numbers suffered as a result, as he scored 14.9 points on a very poor 39.4 percent from the field. Nevertheless, Ariza thrived as a key role player during the Lakers’ 2009 championship run, and he’ll be asked to take on a similar role with the Rockets this time around.

Behind Harden and Howard, Ariza will likely be the third option offensively for the Rockets, and his shooting aptitude will help stretch the floor for his new teammates.

Defensively, Ariza will do wonders for the Rockets, who exhibited exploitable perimeter defense all last season — adding pressure on Dwight to cover for both Parsons’ and Harden’s mistakes. Nonetheless, Howard helped lead the Rockets to the 12th-best defensive rating in the league.

Ariza will serve as a much more capable deterrent than Parsons to penetrating offensive players. His ability to not only defend small forwards, but also to veil Harden’s defensive deficiencies, will greatly aid this Rockets team.

Due to Ariza’s mobility and length, he quickly closes the gap that smaller, quicker shooting guards may create against him, thus giving Coach Kevin McHale the liberty of hiding Harden on defense by placing him on the opponents weaker offensive threats. With Ariza and Patrick Beverley harassing opposing wings, as well as Howard altering shots at the rim, the Rockets could conceivably catapult to a top-seven defensive team.

Additionally, Ariza’s economically friendly four-year, $32 million deal is structured on a declining scale, and it won’t devour much of the Rockets’ cap space next summer — giving them another opportunity to land a top-tier free agent. Should the Rockets find a way to shed Donatas Motiejunas‘ and Kostas Papanikolaou‘ s contracts, the Rockets could potentially clear up enough cap room to sign another notable free agent, especially since the cap room will reportedly rise to $63.2 million next season,  per ESPN’s Marc Stein.

Just visualize a Houston Rockets starting five comprised of Patrick Beverly, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Paul Millsap, and Dwight Howard: that team would certainly cause havoc in the talent-loaded Western Conference. Even a team consisting of Kemba Walker, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, and Dwight Howard would have a considerably lethal starting five.

Though unlikely, both of these team scenarios are within the realm of possibility if the Rockets play their cards right.

Zach Lowe of Grantland suggested that players are repelled by the idea of playing alongside James Harden (due to his laziness on defense) and Dwight Howard (because of his immaturity and inability to detangle himself from drama in the locker room). Perhaps Ariza — who’s also a champion — can help rectify Harden and Howard’s faulty approach to leadership; perhaps he could conduct and nurture a winning culture in the locker room.

In addition to masking Harden’s notoriously bad defense, Ariza’s championship experience can help remove the stigma associated with Harden and Howard’s names.

Ariza seemingly benefits the Rockets from every angle, and he fills a glaring hole for the Rockets defensively. While he wasn’t the Rockets first option heading into this off-season, his presence on the team has certainly buoyed the Rockets’ rather haphazard offseason.

The rosters depth may not be as strong as it was in years prior, but the Rockets’ current starting five is feasibly talented enough to make a deep playoff run.

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