The NBA-styled drama surrounding Omer Asik’s current employment won’t go away any time soon, there are still exactly two months left until the league’s trade deadline, with the transaction-happy NBA draft and 2014 offseason to follow after that. What is clear for now is that the Rockets, unhappy with the proposed deals reportedly offered to the team in the wake of Asik’s off-record trade demand, have pulled Omer off the table for now. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey reportedly decided on a Dec. 19 personal trade deadline in any transaction for Asik, as it would allow either his front office or the team that traded for the big center to potentially trade Asik again on trade deadline day after a two-month wait, as per NBA bylaws.
Whether Morey was being generous to his possible trading partners with that deadline or whether he was attempting to drum up early season interest in Asik isn’t the issue. What’s important is that Asik is a Rocket for now, the Rockets don’t very much like Omer Asik right now, and the Houston Rockets don’t really play all that well with Asik on the floor right now. What once seemed like a potentially promising front court, whether Asik shared the court with Dwight Howard or not, seems shot to hell for both on and off-court reasons, and it’s very possible that Asik’s value dips even lower between now and mid-February.
All this is a bit of a startling turnaround from what Morey was greeted with last July. When the Rockets signed Howard to a massive free agent deal, Asik reportedly asked for a trade before Howard was even introduced as a Rocket. Within hours of Howard’s commitment to Houston, radio chat shows and NBA Twitter was awash in Asik speculation, with the most famous non-deal wondering if the Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans could agree on a transaction that would send former Dwight Howard teammate (and very good fit) Ryan Anderson to Houston.
By the time the season rolled around, Asik was starting in a lineup next to Howard that did not work on either end of the floor. After bowing out of a game against the New York Knicks in the second week of November, Asik has played just over 122 minutes since then, as the Rockets have gone 12-5 after a 5-4 start with Asik logging big minutes. Though he’s been battling thigh and knee injuries all season, Asik has turned in a terrible year. Though he’s a no-stats All-Star type, changing the game defensively in ways that don’t show up in the box score, his rebounding and block percentages have dipped significantly, and his turnovers have spiked upward.
That’s just part of the reason why rumored deals for Asik (Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes from Philadelphia, or Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a low-end first rounder from Boston) didn’t pan out. Asik’s contract counts against the cap for just over $8.3 million this season and next, but he’s making $15 million in actual payroll salary next season, quite a chunk of change for someone who may not be able to play 33 minutes a night. That, his poor 2013-14, and his uneasy fit with those destinations (Philadelphia and Boston don’t need to win now with a big man in his prime, and Philly already has a defense-first center in Nerlens Noel lined up for next season), all combined to limit Morey’s options.
The self-imposed deadline probably didn’t help, and you can be sure that amongst NBA circles some GMs are cackling at the thought of Morey’s own clever payroll move (creating that poison pill, $15 million year in 2014-15 to scare the Chicago Bulls off from matching the contract in the summer of 2012) coming back to bite him in the tail, but in the end Asik is to blame for not being able to suit up for another team for the time being. Had he played better or handled his demotion properly, teams would have been lining up.
They still might. Morey won’t like it, as he’d prefer to have a set rotation to develop between now and the playoffs as opposed to between February and April, but there still should be a market for an All-Defensive Team-level center, even at that price. Big men that can walk and chew gum at the same time are to be coveted, and while Asik has his issues with that sort of duality on offense, he remains an absolute game-changer on defense.
Provided he’s engaged, and healthy. He’ll have the rest of the winter to attempt as much.
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