For a long time, the Houston Rockets were firmly entrenched in asset-acquisition mode.
It was all about turning pennies into nickels and then nickels into dimes. The hope was that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would be able to do this long enough to cobble together the required pieces to land a star, once one became available.
And guess what? It worked. Twice.
A good general manager's work is never done, though, and there has been some fallback from the signing of Howard.
Rockets backup center Omer Asik has wanted out for a while now, and there's plenty of incentive to move him before December 19, which is the last day the Rockets would be able acquire players in a deal for Asik and still be able to use them in another trade before the February deadline.
Here is the latest on the Asik trade front, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
With Rockets determined to make Omer Asik deal within 48 hours, Hawks, Celtics, Cavs, 76ers most serious suitors, league sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) December 18, 2013
Beyond Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland and Philadelphia, I know there's one more significant team in Asik mix. "A wildcard," a source says.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) December 18, 2013
But what should be the return for Asik? What do the Rockets need? As usual, Morey can take this a few different ways.
Add Another Star
The Rockets still have plenty of very attractive trade pieces, which include but are not limited to: Asik, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley, Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas and Greg Smith.
The inexpensive talent Houston has is impressive, but the assets don't stop there. Houston also has all of its first-round picks available to trade, which would likely be necessary to acquire another star at this stage in the game.
Therein lies the problem, though. Right now, there aren't any notable stars readily available, or at least they're not as firm on wanting out as guys like Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony once were.
Moving Asik for another huge piece and building a new Big Three in Houston may be appealing, but it doesn't seem possible right now. The window to trade Asik is closing, and true star players aren't available, at least not yet.
Clear Cap Room
This may seem counterintuitive to contending, but perhaps Houston can make an early play for free agency this upcoming offseason. If the Rockets were able to deal Asik and find a home for Lin, they'd come awfully close to once again being able to offer a max deal.
Houston's timing likely depends on what the plan with Chandler Parsons is. Parsons can be made a restricted free agent this offseason if Houston declines his team option, which would in turn allow the Rockets to match any offer he receives. With the right amount of cap juggling, the Rockets could try to lure a player like Dirk Nowitzki or Chris Bosh to Houston while locking up Parsons for the future.
If the Rockets trade Asik for a non-expiring deal and keep Lin, there likely won't be cap space on the horizon, particularly if Parsons demands a hefty deal out on the open market.
If the Rockets want a star in free agency, trading Asik and Lin for expiring deals might be their best shot at it.
Find the Right Fit
The options above may be infinitely more exciting, but it's debatable whether the Rockets need another star at all. The Rockets have the league's best lineup in net efficiency (minimum 50 minutes) with Beverley and Jones next to Parsons, Harden and Howard, and they're putting up ridiculous numbers. Here is ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz explaining just how good they've been:
53 percent of the starting unit’s shot attempts have been taken in the basket area, and another 26.3 percent of them come from beyond the arc. That means nearly four out of every five shots for this unit originate from one of the sweetest spots on the floor -- almost unheard of. Per 48 minutes, this lineup has scored 14.7 points more than its opponents just at the rim, as of December 12.
Staying flexible and waiting for the right move instead of forcing it has always been Morey's style, so dealing Asik for an expiring deal or having the main haul be draft picks certainly makes some sense.
But let's say the Rockets do want to make a push this year and bolster the talent on the roster.
Without forfeiting other young players or draft picks and just dealing Asik, the Rockets won't be able to lure a star, even if one were available. Teams like the New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks, according to Sam Amick of USA Today, have reportedly balked at giving up Ryan Anderson and Ersan Ilyasova straight-up, so that gives you an idea of where Asik's value is.
What also must be considered is that at some point, there could be diminishing returns from adding another offensive-minded player like, say, Jeff Green to Houston's roster.
Houston is already third in the league in offensive efficiency and has clearly found an offensive unit that works, so you have to wonder how much room there is to grow on that end of the floor. While another talented scorer could theoretically help Houston's spacing, he could also take away possessions from Harden and Howard, which isn't ideal.
What should be Houston's biggest priority in a trade for Omer Asik?
We can get a reasonable feel for how this would work by looking at usage percentage. Jones has a usage rate of 17.7 percent, and again, the Rockets have had plenty of success when he's been next to Howard in the frontcourt.
Green has had a usage percentage of 22.2 percent in his last two seasons. Would he be able to adjust to having less of the offense run through him? Would he be as effective without the ball in his hands?
Those are fair questions to ask, which is why it might make more sense for the Rockets to target someone whose biggest strength isn't scoring but instead something that will not interfere with what the Rockets have working offensively right now.
Typically, the kind of player whose best skill isn't scoring isn't referred to as a star, and that's okay. Again, Houston already has two stars in place. It may be enticing to try and add another right now in an Asik trade, but fit and continued flexibility should probably continue to take precedence.
*All statistics obtained from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted