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Reunited with Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza embracing role as Rockets’ glue guy

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Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza went out for dinner together Dec. 8, 2011. They were back in Paul’s condo when the star point guard was thrown headfirst into one of the NBA’s biggest controversies.

New Orleans agreed to trade Paul to the Lakers, but the league – which was operating the New Orleans franchise while it was for sale – vetoed the deal.

“It was crazy,” Paul said.

Paul and Ariza, then New Orleans teammates, have reunited with the Rockets. This time, Ariza might have more than a front-row seat to Paul’s saga. Ariza could be a central character in the story.

Of course, Paul came to Houston to escape the Clippers, team up with James Harden and try to win a championship. But Paul also said his friendship with Ariza “had a whole lot to do with it.”

Three Rockets starters – Paul, Ariza and Clint Capela – will be free agents next summer. Paul is the obvious priority, and general manager Daryl Morey said Capela, who will be restricted, “couldn’t price himself out” of Houston.

The Rockets already have nearly $76 million in 2018-19 and more than $85 million in 2019-20 committed to just five players (Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Nene). New owner Tilman Fertitta has expressed limitations on paying the luxury tax.

So, where does that leave Ariza? And perhaps more importantly, how would whether or not Houston re-signs Ariza affect Paul?

“Trev, like I said, is a good friend of mine. We talk about any and everything,” Paul said. “But, when that decision comes, I’m sure we both will make the best decision that’s best for my family and best for his family.”

If the Rockets discard Ariza to to sign another of Paul’s friends, LeBron James, it probably wouldn’t be a problem. Really, worldly veterans like Paul and Ariza would likely understand if Houston lets Ariza walk even without replacing him with LeBron.

But how much risk do the Rockets want to take? Would they chance losing their big acquisition after only one season? Remember, they were reportedly reluctant to deal Ariza in a package for a third star last summer because of his Paul connection.

That bond is already showing this season.

When Paul’s new teammates questioned Ariza after the trade about Paul’s’ personality, Ariza assured them Paul, though extremely competitive, is a “real nice dude.” Houston is outscoring opponents by 7.7 points per 100 possessions when Paul and Ariza share the court. And in Paul’s highly charged return to L.A., no Rocket answered the emotion of the night more than Ariza, who got ejected then reportedly led a post-game charge into the Clippers locker room, drawing a two-game suspension.

His point guard might be (re)new(ed), but Ariza still has the same overall job description – steady, unheralded contributor.

“I’ve been doing the same thing for a long time,” Ariza said.

His production is in line with Ryan Anderson’s and Eric Gordon’s. But Anderson’s salary nearly triples Ariza’s, and Gordon – who also earns more money – gets the plaudits of being reigning Sixth Man of the Year because he comes off the bench.

Ariza’s modest windfall: comfort. In his fourth straight year with the Rockets, this stint in Houston has been his longest anywhere.

A second-round pick in 2004, Ariza shuffled between the Knicks, Magic and Lakers. He excelled in the 2009 playoffs, helping the Lakers win the title in a contract year. But the Lakers let him walk to sign Ron Artest (who later changed his name to Metta World Peace) – a particular disappointment for Ariza, who grew up in Los Angeles. So, Ariza agreed to terms with the Rockets for nearly $34 million over five years. But in his only season with an above-average usage, Ariza underwhelmed, and Houston traded him to New Orleans, where he teamed with Paul. In cost-cutting mode after Paul, New Orleans sent Ariza to the Wizards. He parlayed a career year in Washington into a four-year, $32 million contract with the Rockets in 2014.

Along the way, Ariza developed a 3-point shot that wasn’t at all on his résumé his first few seasons. He picked up tricks of the trade defensively. And he displayed professionalism and a strong work ethic.

He isn’t an elite outside shooter, but he shoots well enough to provide clearly efficient scoring and floor-spacing. He isn’t an elite defender, but he can credibly guard all five positions. Important and perhaps the most overlooked aspect of his game, he maintains his two-way effectiveness over long stretches.

Only Ariza, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Jrue Holiday and Ben Simmons rate as above average both offensively and defensively by ESPN’s real plus-minus while playing 35 minutes per game.

The 32-year-old Ariza is easily the oldest of that group. He keeps in excellent shape, playing 36.2 minutes per game, an age-playing time combination matched by only LeBron James, whose workload has been deeply dissected.

While Luc Mbah a Moute was injured and before Houston signed Gerald Green, Ariza played more than 41 minutes in six straight games last month.

“I’m real aware that we’re playing him too many minutes,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But he says, ‘Coach, I’m fine. It doesn’t bother me.’ During the game, he’s never winded.'”

Ariza’s steadiness is historic considering how he entered the league. Since the NBA instituted a two-round draft in 1989, he ranks eighth among second-rounders in career games:

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Ariza says he has always focused competing against the man in front of him, not caring about where he was drafted or contract status.

That approach has taken Ariza a long way in his 14-year career. He has earned a healthy living playing basketball and respect from teammates and coaches – but not job security.

He’s key to the Rockets’ present and future, but with his contract expiring, that can mean a number of outcomes.

“It’s there. You know it’s there,” Ariza said. “But you that’s not what I put all my focus into.

“I’m just going to go out and play my game and do my job, and whatever happens happens.”

Anthony Davis’ “old-school, smash-mouth” 50 points leads Lakers past Wolves (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES — It almost seemed effortless.

Anthony Davis simply got wherever he wanted on the court Sunday night. And he wanted to be in the paint, right in front of the rim. Davis shot 11-of-11 at the rim and 17-of-23 in the paint on his way to what his coach described as an “old-school, smash-mouth way of getting 50.”

Yes, 50. Davis had his best offensive game as a Laker going right through the size of Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves, leading Los Angeles to a 142-125 win.

LeBron James did plenty — 32 points on 20 shots, plus 13 assists — but he battled foul trouble through the first half, and that’s when Davis put the team on his shoulders and carried them.

He carried then to the rim — Davis had 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting in the first half, and only one of those buckets from outside paint. Or, take a look at his shot chart for the game, it’s all about points in the paint.

“I was feeling very good tonight, very well rested, going against another great big man in Karl-Anthony Towns… you get up for those games, they’re a team that’s hungry,” Davis said.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins each had 19 to lead a balanced Minnesota attack. The Timberwolves hung around the game because they were getting buckets against the Lakers. It gave them hope.

“I yelled at them for giving up 125, but I don’t think anyone heard me,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel joked after the game.

The Laker defense was not great, but the way they got buckets it didn’t have to be.

Gordon Hayward on his return, “Tomorrow’s a possibility”

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Boston’s depth was on display for the past month with Gordon Hayward sidelined following hand surgery — the Celtics went 9-4 with a +5.9 net rating — but the team’s offense slid back to middle-of-the-pack without his scoring and shot creation.

They are not going to be without him much longer, Hayward could return Monday night, he told reports Sunday, via Chris Forsberg at NBC Sports Boston.

“Bone has healed, probably stronger than my right hand. There’s a plate in there with screws. The bone is good,” Hayward said Sunday after going through the team’s off-day practice. Boston did not engage in any live 5-on-5 action but Hayward sounded open to returning Monday.

“Tomorrow’s a possibility,” he said. “See how I feel when I wake up, go through shootaround, see how it goes.”

As one should expect, coach Brad Stevens was more cautious but said Hayward will be back “sooner than later.”

Hayward was having a bounce-back year through his first eight games, averaging 18.9 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from three, pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and dishing out 4.1 assists per game. He’s been a critical playmaker for the Celtics next to Kemba Walker.

Hayward fractured his hand on a fluke play against the Spurs and required surgery to repair a fracture to his fourth metacarpal bone in his left hand (the bone that connects the wrist to the ring finger), the team announced Monday evening. Hayward has made a speedy recovery from that injury.

Boston hosts Cleveland on Monday then travels to Indiana on Wednesday.

LeBron James blows by Gorgui Dieng then puts him in poster

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LeBron James battled foul trouble in the first half against Minnesota, picking up four and only playing 12 minutes because of it.

When he was on the court, however, he was dominant — 16 points on 10 shots, with a couple of deep threes.

Then LeBron did this to Gorgui Dieng.

That’s just not fair.

In the video, watch the reaction of the Laker bench — that group is having fun.

The Lakers led 73-65 at halftime of this defensive struggle game in Los Angeles. Anthony Davis had 27 on 12-of-15 shooting in the first half.

Watch Heat rookie Tyler Herro drain game-winning three in OT, Miami beats Chicago

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Miami just finds guys. And develops them. Kendrick Nunn is at the top of that list for them this season, playing like someone who will get Rookie of the Year votes so far this season. Don’t leave Duncan Robinson off that list,  he has had some big games for the Heat lately.

Sunday it was Tyler Herro‘s turn. The rookie out of Kentucky scored 16 points through the fourth quarter and overtime against Chicago. That includes draining the game-winning three off an assist from Jimmy Butler.

That bucket held up as the final score, 108-105 Miami.

It also wasn’t Herro’s only big three in OT.

Miami improves to 17-6 on the season, and a part of that is they have rookies stepping up and contributing.