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Report: Rockets trading Trevor Ariza, No. 16 pick to Pistons for future first-rounder

Trevor Ariza vs. Pistons

Feb 23, 2020; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza (8) passes the ball on Detroit Pistons guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (19) during the second half at Moda Center. The Blazers won 107-104. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets trading Robert Covington to the Trail Blazers for two first-round picks and Trevor Ariza strongly indicated Houston wasn’t done dealing.

Now, the Rockets will flip Ariza and the No. 16 pick (acquired from Portland) to the Pistons.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports:

The Rockets aren’t hard-capped based on any publicly revealed moves. Of course, it’s always possible they’ve secretly agreed to a deal that would hard cap them.

Spending more than $5,718,000 of their mid-level exception would trigger a hard cap. By shedding Ariza’s $12.8 million salary, Houston now gains flexibility to use the full $9,258,000 non-taxpayer mid-level exception and stay below the hard cap.

The mid-level exception is the Rockets’ best mechanism for convincing James Harden and Russell Westbrook they have a championship-caliber roster. They need more depth, especially after losing Covington.

Of course, this also makes it easier for Houston to avoid the luxury tax completely. That said, buying a second-rounder for $4.6 million reflects well on Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta. That provides hope this isn’t just about dumping Ariza’s salary.

Ariza has a $12.8 million salary for next season. The Trail Blazers must guarantee at least $8,960,975 of that to complete the Covington trade.

The Pistons could waive Ariza with that smaller cap hit by Friday. Or they could keep him on the roster at his full salary. He can serve a helpful glue guy on a good team or sulk on a bad team. That Detroit had been starting Tony Snell at small forward shows the need for Ariza – but also how far this team has to go.

The Nos. 7 and 16 should provide useful building blocks. New Pistons general manager Troy Weaver can pick players who fit his vision for the team.

But if Detroit gets good enough to convey a top-16-protected pick in the next four years, it’d probably be pretty close to No. 17. There’s downside risk of conveying an even-higher pick in 2025-2027.*

*Teams can trade picks only seven, not eight, years in advance. My guess: If Detroit’s first-rounder doesn’t convey to Houston by 2027, it becomes a 2027 – not 2028 – second-rounder.

The Pistons are shuffling first-round picks – maybe conveying a worse one, maybe conveying a better one – while adding a 35-year-old Ariza. That doesn’t look like great value.

The Rockets gain flexibility and draft capital. But it just depends how they leverage it. Their target with the mid-level exception will swing whether this sequence of trades was worthwhile – especially to how Harden and Westbrook perceive the finished roster.