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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Another win for the Coogs! Photo by Getty Images.

The Cougars were supposed to play a game in Tampa against The University of South Florida on Jan. 14th, but this contest was postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing within the USF program. Houston was able to take advantage of the extra time off to rest their players and prepare for their next game against UCF.

Their previous game against the Knights in Orlando on December 26th was a close matchup which saw UCF and the Cougars tied at halftime. The second half was a back-and-fourth contest between the two teams, but Houston was able to come away with a nine point victory.

This game however was nowhere near as close and their previous meeting.

Houston immediately got off to a 12-0 start thanks to four straight 3-pointers from DeJon Jarreau (2x), Marcus Sasser & Quentin Grimes.

The Cougars continued to surge past the knights and at one point led 38-9 with 3:43 left to go in the contest.

Houston led 45-19 at halftime, their largest first half lead of the season.

The Cougars were able to maintain their commanding lead with both efficient scoring early on and elite level defense. Houston forced UCF to commit 20 turnovers that resulted in 22 points for the Cougars.

The Cougars won most of their games this season with commanding defense, dominating the boards and superior guard play. All three boxes were checked as Houston was able to secure a 75-58 victory.

UCF did outscore Houston in the second half 39-30, but the Cougars' lead proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to overcome for the Knights. Essentially, Houston was on cruse control the second half of the game and never saw their lead drop below double digits.

Grimes scored in double figures for his 11th straight game after opening the season with eight points against Lamar. Senior forward Justin Gorham scored a season high 15 points as well.

Houston has now won its fourth straight game since its loss to Tulsa and now remain in sole position of 1st place in the AAC.

The Cougars moved up from No.11 to the 8th ranked team in the country as multiple top-ranked teams suffered losses over the week.

Kelvin Sampson passed former Houston coach Tom Penders as he earned his 650th career win. This also moves him into sole possession of 41st place on the NCAA wins list. He is also the second winningest coach in Houston Cougars Men's Basketball history behind only the great Guy Lewis.

UP NEXT: Houston looks to exact revenge against the only team to defeat them this season as they host Tulsa at the Fertitta Center on Wednesday at 7pm.

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