Dwight certainly finds himself in greener pastures. Heavily courted to play alongside emerging superstar James Harden, potential one-year wonder Chandler Parsons, the league’s best backup center in Omer Asik, and not be forgotten, the recently resigned Francisco Garcia, with Dwight now on board, the Rockets roster is mostly set. By the way, never forget about Cisco Garcia. In fact, keep that head on a swivel when he’s near — Cisco’s one of the few players in the league who appears poised to kill a man at a moment’s notice. If there was an award to commemorate such players – perhaps a “Crazy-Eyes Killa” award, watch the whole clip, but the eyes are 58 sec. in - Garcia would have one by now. He’d have more than one, but Stephen Jackson did to that hypothetical award what Michael Jordan did to the MVP. Remind me, I’ll have to make a longer list of these guys at some point. Pure head cases like Metta don’t count, nor do posers like Ibaka (“somebody hold me back!”) or plain and simple tough guys like Zack Randolph, whose former teammate Ruben Patterson was crazy enough to send Zbo into hiding. But I digress.
At this moment, all that matters to Rockets fans is that they got their guy. Nothing like this has ever happened in Houston. Sure, they landed Clyde the Glide in his latter years to run with Hakeem. And Rockets fans must’ve been elated to see McGrady join Ming as Orlando took the perpetually malcontent Stevie Franchise off their hands. (If he’s your franchise, your franchise just might be Long John Silver’s.) I don’t want to crash the party by pointing out what remain some considerable holes in the Rockets’ roster (okay, so I sort of do want to do that). They unquestionably have two Top 15 players in their prime (even if one is just entering his as the other is creeping towards its final stages), and might just have two Top 7 players donning Rocket red next year. This doesn’t happen often for any franchise. Enjoy.
It’s nonetheless true that Houston’s roster lacks quality depth beyond Howard, Harden and Parsons. A no brainer it might’ve been, but clearing cap space by losing guys like Thomas Robinson and Carlos Delfino killed Houston’s depth. Headlined by H&H, that doesn’t matter as much. Still, I don’t like Lin as anything more than a 20 min. combo guard off the bench, and the power forward slot remains murky. But if Beverly continues to develop, and if the Garcia/Casspi combination gives them something, there’s enough there for a really good team. I don’t believe that it vaults them above the likes of Miami and OKC, but Houston should be more or less as competitive as San Antonio, Golden State, Indiana, Chicago, the Clips, and dare I say, the Nets? If only Houston had one more asset…
How is Omer Asik different from 2008-2009 Marcin Gortat? Few stark contrasts in their games are readily identifiable. Gortat was a little better offensively, and is a little taller than Asik, but never really materialized as the rim protector and elite rebounder that Asik has become. If Dwight couldn’t play well with Gortat, and struggled to form a formidable front court with the much more skilled Gasol, it’s hard to see any scenario in which Dwight and Asik succeed on the court together. Faced with a similar predicament (two of its top four players couldn’t play together) in 2010, Orlando said goodbye to Gortat as it sent him packing to Phoenix in return for Hedo Turgoglu, Jason Richardson, and Earl Clark.
So when Morey claims that Houston has no intentions of moving Asik, exercise a healthy degree of skepticism. Asik is a Top 5 defensive center, and one of the game’s best rebounders. As such, he’s a lucrative asset. If you play him 15 minutes per night behind Howard, you might as well hire Mike D’Antoni to coach the team. (I’m guessing D’Antoni would keep Asik tethered to the bench so that he could start Garcia at power forward.) For Rockets fans, it’s fortunate that Morey isn’t half the fool that is Mitch Kupchak. Morey will trade what is sure to be an underutilized asset, but will do so on his terms. I suspect that once word emerged that Asik was none too thrilled about Howard coming aboard, Morey received offers roughly commensurate to the package Orland received for Gortat, which, while unquestionably a poor value at the time, looks like a mere pittance with the benefit of hindsight. Morey won’t take that. He’s hell bent on building a championship roster, and after years of waiting and allaying the concerns of his doubters, it’s his time to say “I told you so.”
Here’s why that won’t be so simple: Houston signed Asik to a “poison pill” offer sheet last summer. In common parlance, Houston filled Asik’s contract with unpalatable provisions. Most notably, in 2014-2015, Asik will be owed $15 million. He’s great at $8 million, but $15 will make teams think two or three times about acquiring him in any deal. It was enough to scare off the cap conscience Bulls, and the poison will be even more potent this time around. Consider that Houston paid Asik just over $5 million last year. A bargain, no doubt. It owes him the same this year. Hence, any team that acquires Asik will acquire only the poison — Houston will have already consumed the good attributes of the pill. With that in mind, Asik’s trade value is likely not what it seems to most Rocket’s fans. No, that doesn’t mean that they’ll have to trade him for Luke Walton. Just don’t expect teams to be falling all over themselves to offer blue and red chip prospects or all star caliber pieces for the right to pay Asik $15 million.
Given Morey’s clear motive to sell on Asik, the poison third year of Asik’s contract, and the the limited number of teams one could expect to be in the market for his services (more than 20 teams will not go after Asik because of at least one of the following reasons: they already have a good center, they directly compete w/Houston, they want to tank for a good pick in a strong draft, they prefer to save their cap space for the summer of 2014) a fair return more nearly resembles a package like these:
- B to C+ level youngster who fits Morey’s vision for the roster and/or a non-lottery draft pick
- An aging semi-star or excellent role player who fills a need for Houston (e.g., power forward, point guard, solid bench contributors), again with draft considerations possible depending on the quality of the acquired player.
Under those criteria, I’ve identified three possible destinations for Asik, in descending order of desirability for the Rockets:
1. Sacramento. More than anything, Sacto needs stability. Stability requires the non-existence of a surplus of fools. Since Sacramento has just such a surplus, its roster is prime for the picking. Asik would be a great fit there, marking the first step towards playing defense and playing hard. He’d give Cousins room to roam about on offense, as he’s want to do. So who does Sacramento give up? My guess? Houston can pick either Jason Thompson or Patrick Patterson, each of who would fit nicely next to Dwight. Alternatively, even post Tyreke trade, which sent the underrated Greivus Vasquez to the Kings, Sacto still has a glut in the backcourt and needs to clear the deck for Ben McLemore. I’m guessing that makes Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette, and possibly even Isaiah Thomas available for the right price. There’s more than enough here for Houston to strike a deal that shores up its roster.
Best Deal for Houston: Jason Thompson (who can play a little 5), and Thornton.
More Likely: Thompson and Fredette.
2. Washington. This almost makes too much sense. Given the Wiz’ pattern of perplexing decisions then, it probably won’t happen. But Asik is exactly what this young roster needs. The Wiz feature three redish-blue chippers at the 1-3 spots, but lack the interior presence that would allow them to thrive on the break. DC’s somewhat hamstrung in deals like this by it past bad acquisitions, which include Nene and Emeka Okafor. Each would otherwise make a nice backup for Dwight, but I have trouble envisioning Morey being interested in either given their exorbitant salaries. Would a draft pick from the Wiz get it done? If not, Ariza would compliment Houston’s core guys well. He’s won a championship, can be hellish on defense, and can shoot it well when you’re not relying on him to do so every night, as the Rockets learned not so long ago.
Best Deal for Houston: Ariza and a 1st rounder
Might take it: Okafor and a 1st rounder
3. Miami. Asik would complete the puzzle in Miami, and leave the rest of the league with little hope beyond Wade’s imminently combustable knee and Lebron’s intermittent bizarre games/halves/quarters where it appears as though he’s changed bodies with a six year old who’s not certain that he can shoot from anywhere beyond four feet, even in Lebron’s body. In all seriousness, Asik would kill it in Miami. When Bosh pulls in three rebounds, Asik would hustle to collect 18. He’d also allow Lebron to focus on shutting down the perimeter, instead of doubling as the team’s best shot blocker. The question is, what would it cost Miami? If it’s Bosh, the deal is sealed for Houston. (I can’t stand Chris Bosh, but Howard would cover up all of his deficiencies and I’d expect him to thrive in Houston). And I think Miami should pull the trigger on that, perhaps seeking another asset or two to compensate for the perceived talent delta. Forced to forecast, however, I don’t think Miami does that deal. So would Houston accept the title-winning, battle tested, floor spacing, type of role player all ‘chip teams need to win big? Shane Battier played in Houston…Still, that’s not enough. What if Miami threw in Norris Cole or Mario Chalmers? Getting closer. Throw Miami’s 1st rounder in, and we just might have a deal.
Best Deal for Houston: Chris Bosh (remember, I’m guessing it would take more than Asik to get it done)
Might Take It: Battier, Chalmers, and 1st Rounder
Other Teams With Interest:
Charlotte (unless a pick is included, can’t see Rockets jumping at a Biyombo/Sessions package)
Philadelphia (Asik would serve well as Philly’s rim protector until Noel is ready to assume that job. I’d bet that the Rockets would be interested in Thaddeus Young, who would provide an athletic/versatile dimension up front and seemingly no longer fits into Philly’s youth movement. Would that be enough? If so, I’d encourage Philly to jump on it.)
Atlanta (needs a new big after losing J. Smoove and Zaza last week. Nice fit for Asik, but I don’t see the pieces. Deshawn Stevenson anyone? If Teague is willing to talk sign n’ trade to Houston, that’d be a coup for the Rockets. But it would also leave Atlanta with one middling rookie point guard, and that’s it. I don’t see it.)
Cleveland (pursuit of Bynum suggests won’t be complacent at the 5. Trouble is, I don’t think any of the young nucleus, save Zeller, would be available in such a deal. Would the always injured Anderson Varajeo get it done? Think not.)
Chicago (The missed him, but if they weren’t willing to pay for the pill last year, would they really swallow the poison this year? Besides, Deng’s to valuable to move in a deal like this.)
(Update) Dallas (By popular demand – i.e. I forgot about them – the Mavs join the list of flawed suitors. And Dallas would love to have Asik, who’d fit like a glove next to Dirk. The question becomes, who does Dallas have that Houston wants? Most likely, nobody. Shane Larkin might interest them, and perhaps with Jae Crowder that becomes a viable package should trading Asik prove more difficult than imagined.)