Incumbent starting center Omer Asik didn't seem to get the memo. In fact, he wasn't thrilled at all about the addition of arguably the best center in the NBA. The day after the Howard signing became official, reports surfaced about Asik was unhappy at the Rockets for the move, and instantly requested a trade, as his starting spot was likely to be gone.
While general manager Daryl Morey spent all of July shopping him around for the right deal, none was to be found. Instead, the Rockets came up with a plan for Asik heading into the season.
Head coach Kevin McHale would try to maximize Asik's usage, inserting him in the starting lineup, along with Howard, and do everything possible to try and make the pair work offensively and defensively. Should that fail, then Asik would be relegated into the backup center role behind Howard, a position he is familiar with from his days with the Chicago Bulls as Joakim Noah's backup. The last option would be to trade Asik for a complementary piece that fits the Rockets' offensive system.
Fast forward to the first month of the season, and the twin tower duo just didn't work out. With Howard and Asik in the game together, the Rockets' offense takes a severe hit. The numbers tell the whole story:
- Of the 8 games both players started together, the Rockets are 5-3 but trailed by double-digits in the first 7 minutes of the game in 4 of those games.
- As of November 18, the Rockets score 106 points per 100 possessions, which ranks them 5th in the NBA. With Asik in the game, that mark drops to 94.8.
- Without Asik in the game, the Rockets score 111.6 points per 100 possessions.
- With Asik and Howard on the floor together, the duo has a net rating of -15.8, and the Rockets score just 87.3 points per 100 possessions.
The day after head coach Kevin McHale moved Asik out of the starting lineup in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Asik demanded to be traded for the second time in four months, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
Asik did not play in the Rockets' win over the New York Knicks last Thursday, and was not in the arena in the Rockets' win over the Denver Nuggets at home on Saturday. Through his agent, Asik stated that he was in no condition to perform after the demotion.
And while ESPN's Marc Stein reported that the Rockets will, in fact, deal Asik, it may already be too late to get the right piece in return.
Asik is a commodity and rarity to all 31 teams in the league: a 7-foot center who is an elite protector of the paint, and a rebounding machine, which makes him one of the biggest assets in the NBA. Now, that asset has fallen.
Asik's dissatisfaction about a backup role, unless his attitude changes, gives McHale no choice but to continue to sit him, for the benefit of the team. On the other hand, Morey is given no leverage on the potential trade as other teams know that Asik will be gone. Teams won't offer the type of deal they would normally if they didn't know that Asik was forcing a trade, and that could severely turn a huge trade asset into a potential disaster. In a sense, the disaster may have already struck.
The names that have been thrown out there in return for Asik? Ryan Anderson (who plays in the same division), Thaddeus Young, Amir Johnson. Three names that the Rockets are not too excited about.
To make matters worse, in-season trades made by Morey have not worked out too well in recent years. Last season, he was able to pull off a deal that landed Houston the 5th overall pick of the 2012 draft in Thomas Robinson, while the year before, he acquired veteran Marcus Camby to help bolster a playoff run. Robinson performed so poorly that he was out of the rotation after 10 games and traded away in the offseason, while Camby lasted less than 10 games before suffering a season-ending injury.
Asik was, by far the best asset chip Morey has had for a while, and that value has now diminished with his inability to control his feelings and actions. It's understandable why he feels the way that he does -- after all, who wouldn't be upset at someone else basically taking away your job? Add in the fact that he had to wait two years to get a chance to start, as well as the hard work and production that Asik put up in his first year as a Rocket, and it can be a huge confidence hit.
At the same time, Asik is a professional, and his unprofessional actions may have cost the Rockets a huge asset. It's up to Morey now to work his magic and try to salvage a marginal piece for the Rockets in return.
Michael Ma covers the Houston Rockets as an editor for Rockets blog Space City Scoop, and as a columnist for Rocketssocial.com. He's been a basketball junkie since the Illegal Defense rule was still in effect. You can follow Michael on twitter @RealMichaelMa.
- Sports & Recreation
- Houston Rockets
- Omer Asik