Boston Celtics Going All-in on Omer Asik Is the Wrong Move

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Boston Celtics Going All-in on Omer Asik Is the Wrong Move
USA Today

"Stay away from Omer Asik, Boston."

I believe it was Plato who said that. Maybe Socrates. Could be one of Aristotle's gems, too. 

Fine. It was me, and I penned it just now, but I'm only looking out for the Boston Celtics' best interests.

According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Celtics are frontrunners to land the Houston Rockets' disgruntled center:

The Boston Celtics have gained traction in trade talks to acquire Houston Rockets center Omer Asik, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The talks have centered on a package including forward Brandon Bass, guard Courtney Lee and a first-round pick, sources said. The Celtics and Rockets are still haggling over which future first-round pick goes to Houston in Asik deal, sources said.

Boston wasn't a team designed to be a buyer in trades this season. General manager Danny Ainge ushered the team into a full-fledged rebuild over the summer, suggesting that, if anything, it would be a seller.

Perhaps that's why Ainge refuted reports regarding Asik, per the Celtics' official Twitter account:

On second thought, probably not. Ainge, like Rockets GM Daryl Morey, tends to work in the shadows, rarely acknowledging outside opinion. But hopefully, he cares to heed this one: stay away.

The Celtics are not better off with Asik. Dealing for him would be a blunder, and one that could've been avoided at that.

Mistakes happen, but this one doesn't have to.

 

Price Tag

Al Bello/Getty Images

What Asik will actually cost the Celtics is largely unknown. Rumor upon rumor upon rumor continues to trickle down the ever-churning conjecture mill, providing us with conflicting reports, along with those that simply have no foundation.

What we do know is that one rival GM told CBS Sports' Ken Berger that Houston's asking price was previously delusional. And we also know there have been two different versions of a potential Boston deal.

ESPN's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst previously outlined a three-team scenario that would have cost Boston its leading scorer, Jeff Green:

One possible scenario that has emerged, sources say, is a three-way trade in which Boston lands Asik, Cleveland absorbs the contract of Celtics forward Jeff Green and Houston scores no fewer than one of the future first-round picks it covets for surrendering Asik. Other players would have to be involved in such a trade to make the salary-cap math work, but it's the sort of trade that would fall in line with Cleveland's well-known focus on upgrading its options at small forward.

To be clear, the Celtics would trade their leading scorer for Asik, who has averaged more than 20 minutes per game just once in his career. Alriiiiiiighty then.

Call me crazy, but if the Celtics are actually interested in competing this season, parting ways with one of their most dangerous offensive weapons for an offensively-limited Asik seems counterintuitive.

That's not the only scenario on the table, though, according to Wojnarowski:

This is a far more agreeable package. Brandon Bass has been playing well, but he doesn't figure prominently into Beantown's future. Courtney Lee, while he's shown flashes of life, is used sparingly anyway. That first-round pick, depending how protected it is, even seems reasonable.

The problem is, if the Celtics actually see Asik as a building block, they're taking an awfully big risk on him. Asik's contract runs through next season, and as ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg notes, he cannot be extended before then:

It’s a risk, no doubt, but the Celtics would still hold his rights and be in the driver’s seat as far as trying to retain him when he hits the open market. Those rights could also help them in a sign-and-trade deal even if he wasn't retained.

This little quirk isn't so little. What if Asik decides to leave and whatever the Celtics gave up was all for a one-and-a-half-year rental—or in other words, for naught? 

Asik's contract fits into Boston's financial scheme since it expires in 2015, but you don't make a deal like this; you don't trade a first-round pick for a player you don't want to retain long-term.

Absence of guarantees, coalesced with a potentially high price tag, should compel the Celtics to stay away.

 

Is Asik Even Worth the Trouble?

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Unless the Celtics know something we don't, jumping through this many hoops for a still-unproven big is not a good idea.

No one's denying that the Celtics need bodies. They don't have a true center, and they could use a seven-footer like Asik, who might take a top-10 defense and make it even better.

From Forsberg:

In 16 appearances this season, Asik is allowing 0.667 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. Of players with at least 135 possessions defended, Asik ranks fifth in the NBA. (FYI: Boston’s first player on that list is rookie center Vitor Faverani at 33rd overall.)

It’s not just a small sample size. Two seasons ago with Chicago, Asik played 65 games and allowed 0.653 points per play (277 points on 424 possessions defended). Of players with at least 200 possessions defended, he ranked first in the league. No. 2, ironically, was Brandon Bass, a player the Celtics might deem expendable in the quest to secure Asik’s services.

Not that I'm refuting Asik's defensive value, but that is a small sample size.

Asik has only made 16 appearances this year, and that season in Chicago which Forsberg references saw him average under 15 minutes per game off the bench. Playing in short bursts, against second units, is going to bolster his numbers.

Last year's numbers, when Asik logged 30 minutes a night in Houston, are more indicative of the impact he can have. His defensive rating was 103, a full 11 points higher than the year before (92). Granted, the Rockets allowed six points fewer per 100 possessions with him on the floor, but he didn't make them an elite defensive team.

Defense hasn't been Boston's issue anyway. Lack of size hasn't deterred the Celtics from ranking ninth in defensive efficiency. Offense, where they rank 23rd in efficiency, has been their problem.

Want them to make an upgrade? Hope for another scorer, not an offensively incapable center who has never attempted more than 7.5 shots or scored more than 10.1 points per game.

 

Inefficient Rebuild

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Boston is rebuilding. That's no secret. 

When the Celtics traded Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, it was abundantly clear that this wasn't a team thinking "championship." When they hired rookie head coach Brad Stevens, they weren't thinking about winning. And when they amassed more draft picks than you have limbs and toes combined (kidding), they weren't thinking about the present.

Everything about this Boston team screamed "next season." Or "the one after that." Or "the one after that." The Celtics weren't boarding the tank-tank, choo-choo train, either. At least, they would never admit it. 

Even so, they aren't about winning now, and this trade reeks of now, which, while understandable, can easily turn unforgivable.

Boston sits atop the Atlantic Division—without Rajon Rondo. Upon his return, whenever that is, they're going to be even better. Much better. Worlds better. They're essentially taking a four-time All-Star (three appearances) and throwing him alongside what is already a playoff team. 

Yet, Ainge doesn't believe his team is ready to contend for a title.

"I envisioned competing for a championship [eventually], and I don’t think this team is quite there, but it doesn’t really matter," he told The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn.

You have to assume he's including Rondo in his evaluation. The point man is still part of the team, and that's why the Celtics are rebuilding, because they're not a title-caliber outfit.

They've accumulated picks to restructure through the draft and traded away established, championship-possessing veterans in favor of those selections. If they're going to change course now, they better ensure they become something legitimate in return.

Asik doesn't make them legitimate.

Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

With him next to Rondo, the Celtics may win the Atlantic; they may even finish with the third-best record in the conference. But what does that earn them? A second-round date with the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers and an inevitable exit? No thanks.

Playing out of the lottery for one or two series worth of playoff basketball isn't conducive to an effective rebuilding plan. Making the playoffs only damages the value of the Celtics' own draft pick. Compromising the integrity of a potentially high selection, when the 2014 draft class is loaded with franchise-altering talent—Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, etc.—is disingenuous to the future.

Should the Celtics trade for Omer Asik?

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By no means am I telling the Celtics to "tank for real." If they want to, go ahead. Trade Rondo. Trade everyone who's producing. But that doesn't seem like their style, and that's fine.

Survival of the fittest will take care of the Celtics as is. They won't win the Division. They may not even make the playoffs. They stand a better chance of earning a top-10 selection, even in the ignoble Eastern Conference.

Casting aside that opportunity in favor of a player who only helps them experience intermediate success isn't worth it. 

 

 

*All stats come courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

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