COMMENTARY | If you followed the Houston Rockets last year, you fell in love with Omer Asik. Honestly, was there anything better than watching Asik commit an obvious foul, put his hand on his hips, look the referee in the eye in disbelief while sweat fell from his light brown locks, and then begrudgingly drag his bones over to the block to line up for free throws?
Asik showed the kind of grit that you love from your starting center last season. He tallied the most rebounds in the league last year (956), averaging 11.7 rebounds per game and playing in all 82 games, despite blood pouring from his nose once a week. Defensively, he served as the only big man with any kind of polish, protecting the lane with his advanced knowledge of positioning, while outplaying opponents whose athleticism should have yielded him useless. In terms of value, Asik was just as important as James Harden last season; if Houston didn't have Asik last year, there would be no playoffs, there would be little hope for the future, frustration would have mounted, and Dwight Howard would have been out of the question.
That being said, with Howard coming to Houston, Asik is now expendable and wanted. Around half the league could use Asik on their team as either a starting center, or a third big man. At the price of a little more than eight million per year for two more years (that's the cap number, not his yearly salary), Asik is relatively affordable. The Turkish big man is definitely a risk worth taking for a team hoping to push themselves into the playoffs (e.g. Washington Wizards) or into the championship conversation (e.g. Memphis Grizzlies).
The first problem with keeping Asik is the fact that he can't play next to Howard. Forget what some of the analysts are saying, Howard plays best next to a forward who can stretch the floor. In Howard's best seasons in Orlando, he played next to Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. In the 2008-2009 season, the year that Orlando made it to the NBA Finals, Turkoglu and Lewis combined for 354 threes during the regular season (more than four per game). Orlando's offense revolved around lobbing the ball inside to D12 to get the defense moving, with the rest of the squad making the right pass and taking the right shots.
Also, Orlando had Marcin Gortat for three and a half years, and the talented seven-footer never played big minutes next to Howard. If Gortat, who is a considerably better offensive talent than Asik, couldn't play effective offense next to Howard, why would Asik be able to? Asik has no shooting ability whatsoever, he doesn't have quick feet, and he isn't a great finisher, which will likely make him more of a liability in this year's offense than last year's offense. Even last year in Los Angeles, Howard had trouble playing next to Pau Gasol, who is a better passer and considerably better shooter than Asik. If Gasol and Howard both struggled playing alongside each other, wouldn't that mean the Asik and Howard frontcourt has a zero chance of finding success together?
The second reason, and probably the more important reason that the two would have trouble coexisting, is Asik's potential detrimental affect on Howard's fragile psyche. If Howard stumbles out of the gate with his post play, Asik, the fan favorite, could start stealing some key minutes from Howard. Houston's offense is going to look completely different with Howard in the middle, but the transition is not going to be an easy one. McHale ran a quintessential pro-style offense last season, predicated on spacing, pushing the ball, Harden's penetration in the high pick and roll, and three-point shooting. With Howard, I anticipate the offense to still revolve around the same principles, but now Houston can toss the ball into a big man, and he can force a double team or overpower his opponent for two points. If Howard struggles acclimating himself with Harden and Parsons, Asik could provide a stabilizing force on the defensive glass, while still playing the same role on offense as a screener and offensive rebounder. However, if Houston's wings start getting cozy playing with Asik, the transition to a new inside-out offense would become exponentially harder.
The last thing we want to deal with in Houston is an unhappy Dwight Howard. As a franchise, the Rockets need to welcome Howard by making it abundantly clear that he's going to be their starting center and their third foundational piece alongside Harden and Parsons. In the meantime, McHale and company need to find out where the young big guys fit in. The Rockets have Greg Smith (entering his third season), and second-year bigs Terrance Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, so figuring out where they fit in the future plans is essential. There are 96 minutes available per game at center and power forward next year, and Howard will be taking 32-38 of them every night. Therefore, 24 minutes apiece for D-Mo and T-Jones at power forward and 10-15 minutes a game for Smith as Howard's backup makes sense for Houston.
The bottom line is this: Omer Asik is a competitor, and the longer he's on Houston's roster, the more time Howard has to start whining about it. When the Rockets gave Howard his money, they knew he was a character (to put it kindly), and they felt like the on-court leadership of Harden and Parsons could keep Howard's mind on a ring. After Asik's successful first season with Houston, there's no doubt that he is a very solid NBA center. If the right move comes along to move Asik for a point guard, or package him with one of the young bigs for a power forward, Morey will pull the trigger.
Don't let anything Morey says about Houston's roster get to your head. He's paid to put the best team possible on the court, and with Howard in town, flipping Asik for another solid piece is the right move.
M. De Moor is an NBA junkie and a graduate of Montclair State University. He has followed the Rockets from the championship days of Hakeem Olajuwon, to the years of Francis and Mobley, to the McGrady and Yao era, and will continue to follow them through Harden and Dwight's reign of destruction.
- Sports & Recreation
- Houston Rockets
- Omer Asik
- Dwight Howard