The writing was on the wall when Dwight Howard rolled into town this past summer. Since then, things have continued to percolate with the Blazers entering the picture.
According to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, Portland and Houston have at least had some level of conversation:
The Trail Blazers are off to one of their best starts in years, but they’re not kidding themselves. They know they’ve taken advantage of a pillow-soft schedule and have surprised themselves with their shooting (45%). So they’re quietly looking to improve, talking to the Rockets about trading for Omer Asik. They can send back Robin Lopez in a deal, but don’t have the “stretch four’’ the Houston is looking for as it searches for a home for its disgruntled backup center. The Rockets want a power forward who can shoot threes to pair next to Dwight Howard.
Therein lies the rub—Portland’s depth chart doesn't easily fit into Houston’s wish list. Still, the Blazers do seem genuinely interested and could always package players with future draft picks or pursue a three-team trade. Landing Asik would give Portland the kind of defensive presence that LaMarcus Aldridge really hasn’t had before, and when it comes to the playoffs, defense matters—it really matters.
Houston's current backup center gives you that and more—he can block, rebound and score the ball. Check out 22 points and 18 boards against the Orlando Magic on April Fool’s Day, 2013. There’s no hidden meaning intended—Asik averaged a double-double last season.
It’s been a spell since Portland made it out of the first round—all the way back to the heartbreak of 2000 against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The NBA Finals are even further in the distance—the Blazers lost to the Chicago Bulls back in 1992.
And then comes the very top of the mountain—the Blazers have been there just once. 1977 was the year they won the championship, powered by Bill Walton. Can the Blazers dare to dream that big again? They can and they should—but they could use an extra helping of size in the paint.
This isn't to say they’re exactly lacking now—Aldridge is having a remarkable season at the power forward position, leading the Blazers in points, rebounds and steals. On Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors, he propelled the team to its 10th straight win with 30 points and 21 boards.
As for the rest of the starters, second-year point guard Damian Lillard is playing to the tune of nearly 20 points and 6.1 assists in 14 starts, while Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are each meshing well at the shooting guard and small forward positions, respectively. And then there's Lopez, chipping in with eight points and eight rebounds per game.
With that, we come full circle to the notion that Portland’s dangling Lopez while Houston wants stretch 4s. That’s a bit of a wall to climb over—the Blazers’ utility bigs don't really fit that profile. Would Portland consider trading away a different major chip than Lopez—say Matthews or Batum?
There’s a delicate balance in play here. Portland’s 12-2 record has happened for a reason. The starters are clicking and key bench players like Mo Williams and Thomas Robinson are also making a difference. Still, Asik is too intriguing an addition to ignore. And what if you could somehow manage to keep Lopez as well? You’d have both a starter and backup who can protect the rim, plus Asik’s scoring punch.
It’s still early in the season of course, but there’s no time like the present to act, especially when you’re running hot and looking to make it 11 in a row—the Blazers host the New York Knicks Monday night. They’re looking way beyond that of course, to the deep end of the playoffs when battles under the basket reign supreme, when size and strength truly matter.
Opposing centers have done well with a 20.7 PER against Portland this season, according to 82games.com. There’s a lot of guys in the West who will get in their way, like Andrew Bogut and Kevin Love, Serge Ibaka and the Gasol brothers, young tag-teamers like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, or old crafty veterans like Tim Duncan. And then there’s No. 12 for Houston—Dwight Howard himself.
Asik isn’t satisfied playing backup to the top big man in the league. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see him battle Howard one-on-one as part of a true playoff threat instead?