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Breaking Down the Houston Rockets' Best Trade Bait

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Breaking Down the Houston Rockets' Best Trade Bait
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
The Omer Asik trade demand fiasco should be coming to an end very soon.

Disgruntled center Omer Asik remains the Houston Rockets' best trade chip. That is, of course, until the end of this week. 

According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Rockets have set Dec. 19 as the deadline to move the Turkish big man. While the deadline could be interpreted as a ploy by general manager Daryl Morey to pressure potential suitors into making their best offer, it also has other significance. 

Dec. 19 is the latest Houston can go if the team wants to move any of the assets obtained in the Asik deal before the Feb. 21 trade deadline. 

Since Dwight Howard's arrival this past summer, Asik has been looking for the first ticket out of Houston he can find. He initially asked for a trade back in July, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst. After being rebuffed by the front office, the former Chicago Bulls backup attempted to handle his business in a professional manner. 

However, after Asik was replaced in the starting lineup by Terrence Jones, frustration with his limited role reached an all-time high and his demand to be moved was reiterated, per the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen. The 27-year-old essentially benched himself prior to a Nov. 14 showdown with the New York Knicks and sulked his way into a DNP for the following game against the Denver Nuggets

After delivering a ho-hum performance in the eight games following his absence, Asik has missed the past six with an alleged thigh injury. With the Dec. 19 deadline closing in, Asik's lasting impression as a Houston Rocket was a two-point, five-rebound night against the Utah Jazz on Dec. 2. 

 

What Makes Asik So Valuable

In today's NBA, protecting the rim is vital to team success and Omer Asik is one of the league's finest defensive centers. While this season hasn't been the best showcase of Asik's skills, he did have his moments playing alongside Dwight Howard where he made life difficult for opponents in the paint. 

In his breakout season last year, Asik averaged 1.1 blocks per game. Also, according to 82games.com, opponents shot 49.5 percent from the field against the 7-footer (compared to 51.3 percent when he was off the court). 

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
After breaking out last year, Asik has been more spectator than contributor this season.

Asik also puts in work on the glass. He averaged 11.7 rebounds per game last season, including 3.4 offensive boards a night (which was seventh-best in the league). Even with the nightmare season he's having this year, he's contributing 6.8 rebounds in 18.3 minutes a game. 

Whichever team acquires him will be getting a potential All-Star at center. With such a dearth of quality big men around the league, the fact that Houston has one on a manageable contract (roughly $20 million owed for this year and the next) gives them an ace up their sleeve. 

 

Who Might Be Interested In Making A Move

Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski named the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers as the main competition to land Omer Asik. He also cites a league source that says there could be a "wild card" team lurking on the outside looking in: 

In terms of compensation, Wojnarowski wrote: 

Houston is pursuing a power forward in a deal, with candidates including Atlanta's Paul Millsap, Philadelphia's Thaddeus Young, Boston's Brandon Bass and Jeff Green and Cleveland's Anderson Varejao.

ESPN's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst added:

Sources have described the Atlanta Hawks as Houston's preferred trade partner since the Rockets came to the conclusion last month that, despite their attempts to placate Asik, they eventually would have to give in to the unhappy center's long-running desire to be moved in the wake of Dwight Howard's arrival in July. Yet it remains unclear, sources say, how interested Atlanta really is in parting with coveted forward Paul Millsap -- who's considered an ideal frontcourt complement to Howard -- in exchange for Asik.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Atlanta's Paul Millsap has been one of the main names mentioned in a potential Asik trade.

From a talent standpoint, Atlanta does make the most sense. For one, it would net the best player of the rumored targets in Millsap. An added benefit of pulling off a deal with the Hawks is Millsap's contract. The 28-year-old will make $9.5 million a piece for this year and next season. 

Currently, he is averaging 16.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and a block per game. He's also shooting close to 50 percent from the field and nearly 41 percent from behind the arc. 

Houston sending Asik to Atlanta (or any of the other potential suitors listed) would also keep the big man out of the Western Conference. 

As for the other contenders, the Stein/Windhorst report states:

Sources say the Rockets are conflicted about taking back Philadelphia's Thaddeus Young or the Celtics' Green because each player has two more seasons left on his contract after this one. If either Young (owed $19.4 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16) or Green (owed $18.4 million over the same span) is involved in the eventual Asik trade, Houston almost certainly will need a third team to absorb the contract of either player, since the Rockets need to maintain as much future flexibility as possible to re-sign forward Chandler Parsons, who quickly has blossomed into a key cog in Houston and will command a huge raise when he eventually makes it to free agency.

The article claims Sixers forward Spencer Hawes and a first-round pick would be the preferred compensation for Asik in a deal with Philadelphia. It also mentions a possible three-way deal, involving Boston and Cleveland, where Jeff Green ends up on the Cavs while Houston nets draft picks.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Boston's Jeff Green is another big name that could have a new address soon.

Philadelphia's interest in Asik is understandable, but also problematic. The team has been in desperate need of someone who can protect the rim after getting nothing out of Andrew Bynum last season.

However, while a combination of Asik and 2013 first-round pick Nerlens Noel would be imposing defensively, it would also limit what Philadelphia would be able to do in the paint offensively. Neither Noel or Asik are particularly gifted at scoring the basketball.

As for Boston, adding Asik would give them a defensive presence at center while also allowing the team to use rookie Kelly Olynyk and second-year man Jared Sullinger at their natural power forward spot. The same goes for Atlanta, which could move Al Horford to the 4.

Cleveland's involvement is particularly tricky. The team already has Bynum at center and, even if it were to get Green instead, have a litany of forwards from Earl Clark to Tristan Thompson to No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett.

Where Should Houston trade Omer Asik?

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Unless they plan on moving some of those guys in a later deal to fix the logjam, acquiring Asik would be a head-scratcher. Speaking of confusion, Houston's interest in nabbing a power forward is odd given the strong play of starter Terrence Jones so far this season (9.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks).

The bright side for Asik is that his wish will be coming true in the next few days. Whether it is Boston, Philly, Atlanta or Cleveland, expect Asik's thigh to heal sooner rather than later as well as his inevitable return to 2012 form. 

As for the Rockets, they will be rid of their biggest distraction very soon and will be adding a nice piece to an already-intriguing team. They also taught the rest of the league a lesson. By not giving in to Asik immediately and waiting for the right deal, they may have maximized the value of a tough situation. 

Where teams in the past have let the selfish demands of angry players dictate their strategy and kill any leverage, the Rockets are on the cusp of turning their biggest negative into a positive. 

Once Asik is moved, the question becomes whether there's another trade in store down the road. The decision to set a specific deadline for an Asik deal suggests that maybe Morey will flip this haul into something better later in the year. 

There is also a report from The Dream Shake's Patrick Harrel, citing ESPN Radio's Alan Hahn, that point guard Jeremy Lin could be on the move if Houston can find a taker for the two years remaining on his contract.

Lin is off to his best season as a pro, averaging 14.3 points per game while shooting close to 50 percent from the field (including 37.5 percent from three). He's been a huge spark off the bench for the Rockets, which makes the alleged desire to move him a bit strange.

Regardless, Asik is the team's most valuable trade asset and he should be finding a new home very soon.  

 

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