Houston Rockets center Omer Asik is clearly on the trade block, but there don't appear to be any holiday discounts readily available for inquiring teams.
Asik is a player who could start for a number of teams around the league, and the Rockets have set their price accordingly. Houston has been rumored to require an impact frontline player, lottery pick or two first round picks in any trade for the 27-year-old big man.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey apparently hasn't felt the need to lower his asking price, even as his leverage diminished once Asik requested a trade and failed to play well in lineups with Dwight Howard.
According to Ken Berger at CBSSports.com, a rival general manager called the Rockets "delusional" for setting the price on Asik so high.
While no one denies Asik's value as one of the better defensive centers in the league, there are a few roadblocks in the way of Houston receiving fair value in a deal.
Obstacles To Deal
The first potential issue is Asik's contract, which will require him to be paid $15 million next season, even though his cap number will stay at $8 million.
That big salary is going to make Asik a tough player to acquire, as most general managers around the league will dread asking their owner to pay a player $15 million next season with no guarantee that he won't just be a very expensive one-year rental. That's how jobs get lost.
Finding a team willing to cough up a lottery pick from one of the most highly regarded draft classes should also prove difficult, as non-playoff teams will almost certainly balk at sacrificing a huge future asset for a player who is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2015.
While you can't rule out Morey swindling some poor GM, it seems like a straight player swap would make more sense for teams acquiring Asik. There's just too much risk involved to warrant the sacrifice of substantial long-term assets.
Player Types to Target
If the Rockets can't find a team willing to deal draft picks as the main attraction, what are the personnel needs Houston can address?
While acquiring a star point guard may be alluring, the resurgence of Aaron Brooks combined with Jeremy Lin's hot start to the year might be enough to dissuade the Rockets from trading assets for a position that is high in supply and low in demand.
Patrick Beverley, Lin and Brooks all complement each other fairly well, and going with a platoon approach based on matchups might be the best option at this point.
Harden and Howard are solidified at their spots, so Houston's needs all depend on your evaluation of Chandler Parsons. He may fit the classic profile of a small forward in terms of physical gifts, but Houston is deadly offensively with Parsons as a smallball 4.
With Parsons possibly heading for restricted free agency this offseason (if Houston declines his team option in order to retain the ability to match any offer), this could be the window for Houston to put a significant piece in the frontcourt next to him.
While it seems that power forward is the glaring hole, don't rule out the Rockets adding more of a small forward type that can defend and make plays with the ball. Houston has had too much success with a one-in, four-out approach, so putting a plodder with limited range in the frontcourt next to Parsons and Howard is likely out of the question.
That doesn't mean the Rockets have to go after a pure "stretch 4" that shoots primarily from behind the arc. There are other ways to create space, whether it be from smart passing from the high post, slash-and-kick abilities or off-the-ball cuts.
While there's obviously a lot of attention on Houston's offensive style and maintaining space, adding an above-average defender should be a priority as well.
The Rockets are going to give up their fair share of open looks, and Howard will have his hands full making up for leaky perimeter defenders like Harden. A player who can cause turnovers would help tremendously. Although Houston is 12th in defensive efficiency this season, they're also dead last in turnovers forced.
Finding a Fit
If the criteria for an Asik trade is to find a forward who can provide space, play fast and create turnovers, we may have just described Terrence Jones.
After filling in for Asik in the starting lineup, Jones has emerged as a cheap, legitimate option at power forward for the Rockets. Per 36 minutes this year, Jones is averaging 15.8 points, 10 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and one three-pointer, with a 19.1 PER.
Perhaps the play of Jones has allowed Houston to keep the asking price on Asik high, as the Rockets don't seem to have any holes in the starting lineup to fill. Until a true need is created, the Rockets may have the luxury of holding on to Asik, unhappy as he may be.
It doesn't hurt that Houston is winning games, either. Legitimate title contenders rarely make massive trades mid-season, and perhaps Morey is banking on being able to ride out this situation with Asik until the offseason. So long as he's productive and isn't a cancer in the locker room, and so long as Jones keeps playing at such a high level, there's an argument to be made for that approach.
What Houston Can Get
While Houston may not be able to land a lottery pick or multiple future first-round choices, Houston should have options as the season carries on and the playoff landscape becomes more defined.
In the hands of another general manager, Asik might have already been dealt for 50 cents on the dollar. But with Morey, Asik is a valuable trade piece and the only other movable salary besides Jeremy Lin that can bring back an established player already on a big contract. Injuries happen and playoff hopes will die, so keeping Asik around until a blockbuster becomes available makes sense.
Houston can pull off a lateral move for a stretch 4, and that might seem like the most realistic return for Asik if the Rockets can no longer afford to wait. However, it's important to remember that this is a team with young assets, draft picks and the potential to clear max cap space for next season fairly easily.
Houston isn't handcuffed by any means.
There are challenges dealing Asik, but Houston has the sweeteners required to pull off a big deal, should one become available between now and the February 20 trade deadline. So long as Houston keeps winning, maybe the most realistic course of action with Asik is to keep the phone lines open and wait to see if a game-changing player becomes available.