POINT BLANK

Joel Blank: Rockets will need to replace Ariza

Trevor Ariza is headed to Phoenix. J Pat Carter

I'm the guy that has said from the get-go that I wanted to keep this Rockets team in tact and bring everyone back. I get the excitement centered around trying to lure Lebron James, but we all know that you would have to gut the entire roster to get him here. Why blow up a team that set a franchise record for regular season victories last season, had the best record in the league and was one healthy hamstring away from going to the NBA finals? 

If you bring everyone back and maybe add a free agent shooter or two, you could once again find yourself competing for a championship. After the first weekend of free agency it looks like mission impossible when it comes to bringing everyone back. Clint Capella met with the Rockets on Sunday, but remains a restricted free agent.

Trevor Ariza didn't waste any time and signed a one year, 15 million dollar deal with the Phoenix Suns, essentially ending any hopes of keeping the roster in tact. Finding a replacement for Ariza could now become the biggest challenge that Daryl Morey faces this off season, along with getting Capela to sign on the bottom line.

I find it very humorous that Rockets fans wanted change and Trevor to go, simply because he did not make a 3 point shot in Game 7 against the Warriors. To be honest, he didn't make a shot at all in the teams' final game, but as a team, no one could as they missed 27 straight attempts from behind the arc. In his second stint with the Rockets, Trevor Ariza was a catalyst on the defensive end, one of the better on ball defenders in the league, a better than average 3 point shooter and most importantly, a leader in the locker room that was invaluable in keeping his teams together over the course of several NBA seasons.

During the Dwight Howard years, Trevor was one of the few guys who could talk sense into both Howard and James Harden and help the coaching staff find common ground within the locker room. He was a guy that wasn't afraid to speak up at practice or in film sessions, to get players to put their ego aside and understand the teaching moment for the betterment of the team. He was a pro's pro in that he practiced everyday and played the right way while quietly going about his business and setting an example for younger players. He didn't ask for a lot of touches on the offensive end, but when he did got the ball, he was an effective role player for this team. The other intangible that no one factors in, is that Trevor played a big role in recruiting Chris Paul to Houston.

Harden will get all of the credit in making the trade a reality, but Paul and Ariza have been friends for a long time and Trevor was in Los Angeles working out with and working on getting CP3 to H-town throughout last off season. If Morey is lucky, he will find a younger, more athletic, wing player that can knock down 3's and sign him for less money. Even if he does, he will be hard pressed to find someone to replace his presence in the locker room and leadership off the court.

Let me be clear that I do not believe the Rockets could afford to bring Ariza back at a 15 million dollars a year price tag. I don't blame Houston for letting Trevor walk away simply because the price tag was way too high, and would have basically ended their ambitious plans of improving this team. I also don’t blame Trevor for taking the deal from Phoenix, as you only get so many opportunities to cash in on a big contract and this might be his last chance to get a big payday. He will miss playing with a winning team on a consistent basis, but will find reassurance when he looks at his bank statement every 2 weeks.The Rockets on the other hand will feel a massive void if they are unable to replace him with someone that has the same attributes as he brought to the table for this basketball team. Some of the names to keep an eye on as a potential replacement at the starting  small forward position are guys like Wilson Chandler in Denver, Jeff Green who played in Cleveland last year and possibly Rodney Hood who also finished last season with the Cavs.

Hood may command a salary too expensive for Morey's budget. Green can't shoot the long ball like Ariza, but is a younger, longer wing with the ability to defend most of the most talented "3's" in the NBA. If Cleveland doesn't bring Lebron back, it may give Green a reason to look for greener pastures and a new place to call home. Chandler has been on the trading block in Denver and the Nuggets would love to get his salary off their books. What the Rockets have that could be offered up for Green remains to be seen.

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Martin Truex Jr. won his 2nd race of the season last week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR returns to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. This is the first of two races here at this track as they will race on Sunday afternoon. This will be different from the normal night race they usually have here as this will definitely affect the racing surface considering how much the sun could make the track slick. It should be a fun race come Sunday.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. passed Denny Hamlin to capture his second win of the season after rain moved the race to Sunday. He became the first driver to win multiple races after a fierce battle with his teammate Denny Hamlin. The race was filled with tons of wrecks including a fifteen car pileup including Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. It was one of the better races of the season as there was lots of beating and banging.

The race was not without controversy but not the kind you would expect. Early in the race Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and James Davison were involved in an altercation. The two were battling towards the back of the pack when Ware decided to drive through his teammate in turn four. The race got much worse for Cody Ware as he was involved in three more cautions all throughout the race. Many people around the sport were quite perturbed by his antics including broadcaster Mike Joy as he was audibly annoyed after Ware spun out later in the race. Many have questioned if the fifth-year driver should even be in the car and overall I can understand why some of those people think that. In his five years of driving, he has finished on the lead lap one time. I hope that he is able to figure it out and find success in the future, but this was not a good look.

The slump continues for two-time champion Kyle Busch

Throughout the race, Busch was running okay for the most part but towards the closing laps of the race he and Chris Buescher got together triggering a fifteen car pileup. Despite all this, he was able to rebound to a respectable tenth place finish. This has been more than likely the toughest stretch of his career since his championship in 2019. Many would say that the omission of Practice and Qualifying has really affected his performance. Whatever the issue is, this team really needs to find some speed, or he could be in danger of missing the playoffs. I look for this team to bounce back considering how talented he is.

Prediction

The driver that I have winning this week is Kyle Larson. This has been an incredible rebound season for Larson as he currently sits fourth in points. He is also second in laps led only to Denny Hamlin. Richmond has been a great track for him as it fits his driving style perfectly as he can run the outside line and find grip where others can't. This track is also rather sentimental to him considering he won his first pole award here during his rookie season in 2014. While he may not have the results he would want he has always been extremely fast here and even won back in 2017. I look for him to capture his second victory of 2021 come Sunday.

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