Dan Devine

Ariza, Murphy, Collison headline four-team swap

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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We interrupt your regularly scheduled bouillabaisse of offseason nonsense to present you with some actual, honest-to-goodness NBA news.

This just in: TEAMS BE TRADIN'.

ESPN.com's Chad Ford broke the news on Twitter that the New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers and New Jersey Nets were on the verge of completing a four-team, five-player deal. They later completed the trade, and he fleshed out the details.

Here's what happened:

• The Rockets traded swingman Trevor Ariza(notes) to the Hornets.

• The Hornets sent veteran wing James Posey(notes) and promising point guard Darren Collison(notes) to the Pacers.

• The Pacers shipped power forward Troy Murphy(notes) to New Jersey.

• The Nets moved shooting guard Courtney Lee(notes) to Houston.

Now, I think we all know that I'm not exactly Kelly Dwyer — one guy does the hardcore hoop-waxin'-poetic and one guy does the Mark Eaton jokes, and that's for a reason. But my immediate reaction to the deal — and, I'm guessing, the gut-level response that most of you had — was that things seemed to work out fairly evenly here.

Since guts famously have crap for brains, though, let's take a look at this thing in a bit more depth, huh?

New Orleans: New general manager Dell Demps makes a strong statement that, despite Collison's promising rookie season at the controls after an injury sidelined Chris Paul(notes) for most of the year, his organization intends to keep and once again build around its returning All-Everything point guard.

Optimistic Hornets fans might've thought Collison could draw a larger return than Ariza, especially considering he's a dirt-cheap option for the remaining four years of his rookie contract. But the 6-foot-8 Ariza is still a quality haul, even after a down year that saw his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) take a serious hit (and even with four years and a shade over $28 million remaining on the five-year, $35 million deal he signed as a free agent with the Rockets last summer).

Ariza can, and will be expected to, bring athleticism, defensive intensity and long-term stability to a small forward position that's killed the Hornets in recent years, filled as it's been by the likes of now-hobbled Peja Stojakovic(notes), miscast two-guard Morris Peterson(notes), less-than-effective Posey (the remaining two years and $13.4 million of whose ill-advised contract Demps has now shed) and an overmatched Julian Wright(notes) (he's on his way out, too, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, headed to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Marco Belinelli(notes).)

Demps likely sees Ariza, who's just 25 years old despite having six seasons under his belt, as a running buddy for Paul, finishing breaks and nailing down corner threes as he did during the 2008 playoffs for the Los Angeles Lakers. Granted, as National Post sports columnist Bruce Arthur joked, neither Ariza nor Belinelli are quite the All-Star talents that CP3 reportedly wants to see the franchise import, but getting a young starting-quality wing with NBA Finals experience to fill a position of need in exchange for your backup point guard? That could be real nice — provided Ariza's willing to accept that he's not this team's top option. (Something tells me Chris Paul won't have too much trouble dissuading him of that notion.)

Indiana: After what seems like a decades-long drought, the Pacers finally got their point guard of the future. Collison beasted once he got the chance to see the floor last year, averaging better than 16 points (hitting 47.7 percent of his field goals, 40 percent of his 3-pointers and 85 percent of his free throws) and seven assists per 36 minutes in Paul's stead.

Give the 22-year-old UCLA product some time to grow up with in-his-prime All-Star scorer Danny Granger(notes) (27 years old), developing big man Roy Hibbert(notes) (22), and well-regarded rookies Paul George(notes) (20) and Lance Stephenson(notes) (19), and you've got the beginnings of an interesting offensive nucleus in Indiana. And while the Pacers fired a big cannon by jettisoning Murphy's $12 million expiring contract, they've still got a handful of expiring deals with which president Larry Bird and general manager David Morway can get creative.

And they seem serious about giving the kids the keys to the car, too — as Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported, the team is looking to move T.J. Ford(notes), either by trade or by negotiating a buyout, which would leave Collison, Stephenson and 23-year-old A.J. Price(notes) (recovering from a knee injury suffered in a charity game back in May) as the only point guards on the Pacers roster. Youth, it seems, will be served.

New Jersey: The deal imports Murphy, a legitimate power forward who has averaged double-doubles in five of his nine pro seasons (including the last two years). His talents have largely been hidden on some bad Pacers and Golden State Warriors teams, but they're very real.

Murphy's one of the best in the league at attacking the defensive glass, having finished in the top 10 in Defensive Rebounding Rate five times in his career. He's not a dominant offensive player, but he's a solid one who can score efficiently, posting above-average Effective Field Goal Percentages and Offensive Ratings in each of his three full seasons in Indiana. He doesn't get to the line much (just over three free-throw attempts per game for his career), but he hits at about an 80 percent clip once he gets there. He won't stun you, but he'll deliver.

He's got range, hitting better than 39 percent of his career threes, which should help space the floor a bit for primary low-post option Brook Lopez(notes) and might create some additional drive-and-kick opportunities for Devin Harris(notes). The move also continues the Nets' emphasis on improving their outside shooting, which began with the signing of free agents Anthony Morrow(notes) (46 percent on threes in his two years at Golden State) and Travis Outlaw(notes) (38.5 percent from deep over the last three years with the Portland Trail Blazers), as they look to overhaul a roster that produced just 12 wins a year ago.

On top of that, as Ford notes, Murphy's in the final year of a six-year, $58 million extension that he signed with Golden State in 2004, and his $12 million expiring deal "could make him an important trading chip for the Nets at the 2011 trade deadline." Plus importing a veteran four means New Jersey doesn't have to expect the sun and the stars from gifted but raw 2010 draft pick Derrick Favors(notes) from the season's opening tap.

New Jersey gets all that for the price of Courtney Lee, who has impressed at times but has posted an 11.9 PER over two professional seasons. He looked like a real up-and-comer during his rookie year with the Orlando Magic, but given a larger role last season in New Jersey's losing environment and less-defined system, Lee became marginalized and overexposed, and looked to be the Nets' worst starter coming into this season.

Morrow now figures to slot in as the Nets' starting two-guard and stands a good chance of being a major upgrade over Lee on the offensive end (although, as is the case with all ex-Warriors, you have to worry about his defense). Plus, with the import of ex-Laker point guard Jordan Farmar(notes), Harris' experience playing off the ball at times with the Dallas Mavericks, and versatile small forward Terrence Williams(notes) capable of spot duty at shooting guard, New Jersey seemed to have enough backcourt options to answer any lingering concerns.

Houston: For the Rockets, the move seems to be about two things — money and mood.

Vis-a-vis the moolah, Ford writes:

This summer the Rockets spent a lot of cash signing Luis Scola(notes), Kyle Lowry(notes) and Brad Miller(notes) to free agent contracts and their payroll ballooned to $81 million. Before the trade, the team was bracing for a $10 million-plus luxury tax hit. The deal would save them $28 million on the life of the contracts and $10 million this season, including luxury tax considerations.

That makes sense -- Houston sends away Ariza's remaining four years and $28 million in favor of Lee's three years and $3.6 million -- though it is technically only one year and $1.35 million, since Lee's contract includes a $2.2 million team option for 2011-12 and a $3.2 million qualifying offer for 2012-13. (Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears is reporting that the Rockets also received a $6 million trade exception in the deal.) But it's also about getting the roster's mind right.

When Yao went down last year, it left a gaping offensive vacuum in Houston, and nature abhors a vacuum. As the Rockets' big free-agent acquisition last summer, Ariza decided to fill all that wide-open space with field-goal attempts, hoisting up three more shots and two more 3-pointers per 36 minutes than he ever had before. The results of his attempt to be The Man were disastrous, as the former Bruin shot just 39.4 percent from the floor for the season, notched a well-below-average PER of 13.3 and proved that as a primary offensive option, he's a heck of a fourth banana.

Ariza also reportedly butted heads with point guard Aaron Brooks(notes), who, incidentally, did prove to be The Man, averaging 19.6 points and 5.3 assists per game en route to being named the league's Most Improved Player. Obviously, the Rockets loved Ariza's talent enough to give him a long-term deal, but cutting bait now avoids any locker-room issues that could arise from Trevor refusing to accept a role as a complementary piece behind superior scorers Yao, Brooks, the recently re-signed Scola and Kevin Martin(notes), the notoriously efficient shooting guard acquired by Rockets GM Daryl Morey last season.

Add the disharmony and the expected paucity of shots to Ariza's poor performance, sprinkle in the fact that a wing rotation of Lee, Shane Battier(notes) and Chase Budinger(notes) is likely to outproduce Ariza for less long-term coin without the headaches, and serve with a side of substantial savings, and the move starts to smell good from Houston's perspective, too.

All told: Apparently our guts ain't quite as dumb as we thought, gang; this thing really does look pretty darn even all the way around. Of course, I'm betting none of the four teams want it to be even in quite the way the ESPN.com Trade Machine thinks it might be. My guess is, they hope the moves will actually increase their chances of winning.

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Hat-tip to @incogneetus69 for the Trade Machine screenshot.

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