Omer Asik feels out of place (Getty Images)
There are two legitimate schools of thought when it comes to the Houston Rockets potentially dealing center Omer Asik.
One conjures up images of a starting-level NBA center on the open trading block, a giddy proposition. It’s something that rarely happens, as big men that can walk and chew gum will be perpetually coveted, even in a league that is getting smaller and sleeker. Omer can turn a team’s defense around in an instant, and despite his so-so offensive skills, his size, athletic ability and reasonable price should make him the season’s most sought-after trade bait.
The other line of thinking? It screams something about Asik’s trade value being shot to hell the minute Dwight Howard committed to the Houston Rockets on a steamy Friday night last July. Asik immediately demanded a trade, and even before Friday rolled into Saturday the message boards, radio airwaves and Twittersphere was buzzing with possible scenarios. I know, because I was asked about it on all three; and that was at midnight on a Friday in July.
So, imagine where Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is at with the NBA season in full swing in mid-November. He’s either turning down sweetheart deal after sweetheart deal, or he’s itchy at the radio silence that tends to come from an absolute lack of leverage, with potential trading partners mindful of the fact that Asik wants out. Morey held firm and stuck with Asik throughout the summer, either in spite of opposing teams lining up to deal for the center, or due to opposing teams backing off while knowing that Morey’s juice card was lacking.
That reconciliation period, apparently, is over. With Rockets coach Kevin McHale deciding to (at least temporarily) bench Asik in favor of a smaller lineup, the former starting center has once again requested a trade. From Jonathan Feigen at the Houston Chronicle:
Asik, a 7-0 center, made his trade request within the past 48 hours, a person familiar with the conversations said Thursday.
The Rockets have no trade involving Asik, 27, in the works, with one individual saying a deal is more likely in months than in days.
Asik declined comment, referring questions to his agent, Andy Miller, who also would not comment on the request.
“I would say the situation is very frustrating right now, and we’re trying to work through it,” Miller said. “For Omer, the objective has always been to continue to develop and grow as a player. That’s why we came to Houston in the first place. If that objective can’t be met, if we can’t get the right platform to grow and contribute as a player, it’s certainly frustrating.”
Even though Asik has started at ostensible center in eight of the nine games he’s appeared in this season (Thursday’s win over the Knicks included a DNP-“he wasn’t feeling good,” and Wednesday’s contest against Philadelphia saw Omer come off the bench in relief of Greg Smith), his minutes have dropped from around 30 to 20 a game this season. Worse, his per minute numbers are down, his fouls are way up, and the Rockets’ offense has been borderline miserable with Howard and Asik on the floor together.
Part of this is on Howard, because he’s clearly hiding from the ball at times, and part of this is on the Rockets’ goofball backcourt: James Harden has been breaking plays all year, while Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley have only recently gotten their act together. Yes, the Rockets are 6-4 and sixth in the NBA in offensive efficiency, but it’s been an uneasy jaunt to those numbers. And nobody assumed that, even with the expected initial growing pains, Houston would have merely matched their defensive ranking from last year (16th in the NBA in points per possession) ten games into the Dwight Howard Era.
With Howard and Asik on the floor for significant chunks of the game, the assumption was that the Rockets would be able to build upon last year’s Asik-led defensive mettle (they were one of the better defensive teams in the NBA during the 30 minutes that Omer played, and one of the league’s worst with him on the bench) by adding a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Howard. Instead, it’s been a fitful partnership, and Asik (who honed his craft backing up on all-world center in Chicago, behind Joakim Noah) isn’t keen to be a reserve.
We get that. But we also understand why Asik may be a Rocket for a while.
Yes, Omer’s traditional and advanced stats this season are bunko, but that doesn’t mean Morey needs to rush things. A deal involving Asik is a little worrying due to Greg Smith’s likely long spell on the shelf following a nasty knee sprain suffered on Thursday, one that has an MRI pending, and one that may have caused significant ligament damage. It’s worrying considering Howard’s back issues and propensity for foul trouble, and worrying because the Rockets would be trading Omer Asik, Bona Fide NBA Starting Center.
The Rockets should trade him, though. Because trading a dollar for three quarters might be the best thing for this team, considering its potential and current rotation.
Just not now, though. Unless that sweetheart deal pops up, the Rockets should continue utilizing Asik off the bench as this team figures things out. We’re still a month away from being able to trade 2013 free agent signings and rookies, and ten games isn’t long enough to accurately diagnose exactly what (slightly) ails these Rockets. Morey has to let this rotation build up the minutes before pinpointing the sort of players he needs in return for Asik.
He’ll eventually get those players, mind you. Yes, with two trade demands in four months it’s possible that Houston’s leverage is low, but teams still recognize that Asik can contribute. He’s had a rough start to the season, but it’s not as if interest in the big man is going to dissipate by February’s trade deadline. Even continued dodgy production and frequent long spells on the bench aren’t going to take away from what NBA teams (should, we hope) know – that Omer Asik’s footwork and rebounding can put your team over the top.
The deals will be there. And if Harden and Howard get their personal acts together, the Rockets will continue to pile up wins even with Asik working in and out of the rotation. Houston’s front office needs data, and time, and they don’t need to cater to the (understandable) whims of Asik and his agent. They need to figure out what’s best for their team, and then go about trying to negotiate to add what’s best for their team.
Somehow, you get the feeling Daryl Morey already knows this. You can take your eyes off the ticker for now, Rocket fans.
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