It's official—Dwight Howard has chosen to take his talents to the Houston Rockets in what appears to be a bid to build yet another super team around him. While this makes the Rockets a real title contender next season, this could have consequences for the Oklahoma City Thunder beyond putting another quality team between them and a finals berth.
According to Ken Berger of CBS, the Rockets have also put incumbent center Omer Asik on the trading block. While this is understandable given his $8 million cap hit (with a $15 million third year) and supposed unwillingness to play off the bench, this could be a boon for the Thunder. Oklahoma City needs to get better at center and Asik is the sort of defensive-minded center who would fit seamlessly with the Thunder's roster.
First of all, Asik is a great fit. The Thunder have needed a good rebounding and defensive center for a while now, and this is exactly what Asik offers. He grabbed the third-most rebounds per game in the 2012-13 season and the second-best rebounding percentage, with an efficient 10 points-per-game. Asik is also a great defender with length and quickness, and he is one of the best in the league at shutting down the pick-and-roll.
He is not much of a shot-blocker, but despite this, he is a good fundamental post defender. However, Asik is not a very versatile offensive player who can struggle against very strong low-post players. Also, he is on an expensive two-year contract. This could limit interest in him to teams that will be title contenders in the next two seasons, and these teams generally do not have as many valuable trade assets as the Thunder do.
Since Kendrick Perkins has played center for the Thunder these last few seasons, Asik would be a huge upgrade. Last season, Perkins could barely rebound, struggled against the pick and roll and failed to score at all. In contrast, Asik will provide a positive influence on defense, clear the boards and provide an efficient finisher at the rim.
Despite his limitations, Omer Asik would be a huge upgrade to the Thunder's roster. While not a low-post scorer, the Thunder could live with that due to the other elite offensive players on their roster. Also, since they have a lot of talented young players coming off of rookie deals two and three years in the future, a short deal for Asik is not necessarily a bad thing.
The biggest challenge in getting Asik would be to offer the Rockets a trade package that would cancel out their fear of strengthening a powerful conference rival. While they may decide that no return is worth giving the Thunder the center they have been searching for, I believe that giving them Kendrick Perkins, Perry Jones and the Thunder's two first-round picks from the 2014 NBA draft would be enough to pry Asik away.
The Rockets will have cap space next season to absorb Perkins contract, and he would have value as a bench big who can beat up opponents. Also, this trade would keep the Thunder under the luxury tax threshold for another two seasons.
I believe that a trade for Omer Asik would make the Thunder incredibly good. With a starting five of Asik, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson as sixth man, they would have a top offensive team that plays great defense.
While giving up Perry Jones would be a blow, and two mid-to-late first round picks also have great value, especially for a team that drafts as well as the Thunder, it would be worth it to remove Kendrick Perkins contract from the roster and add a good center.