Omer Asik was a large part of the Houston Rockets’ success last season, in which the franchise shook off the rust of mediocrity and returned championship expectations to Clutch City for the first time in a long time.
It makes sense that the team feels attached to him and also values his defense and rebounding abilities—both of which are supreme. But if they didn’t stop putting him on too high of a pedestal, it might just cost them as much as a round in the ultra-competitive Western Conference playoffs.
Asik’s value to his own team plummeted when the Rockets signed Dwight Howard, one of the very best big men in the game on both ends of the floor. When the situation took an unexpected dip, and Asik became so unhappy with his reduced role that the team began to sit him out of games entirely, it was clear he needed to be traded.
But he still hasn’t been. GM Daryl Morey has balked on one artifical deadline for moving the center and seems to still be waiting for the kind of perfectly lopsided offer that he’s become known for.
But is one coming?
Desperation mode—that interface sure to overcome many a team in approach of February’s trading deadline—is sure to wreak havoc on many a roster. But in the case of Asik, the word may already be out too widely. His bloated 2014-15 salary, his mysterious thigh injury, his pouty behavior and Morey’s reputation for fleecing teams have all conspired to make moving him much harder than expected.
So what should the Rockets do?
If they want to contend seriously this season, they ought to unload him as soon as possible and merely hope to get one quality rotation player in return. Asik is no longer playing basketball for the Rockets, and they could easily take back someone who would.
They already missed their chance to get the Boston Celtics’ Courtney Lee, a new member of the Memphis Grizzlies who could have helped mitigate the disastrous perimeter defense thus far demonstrated in Houston.
How many more pieces will they pass on?
Much like the Rockets’ faulty obsession with a new-age offensive style, their indecision on the Asik trade front suggests that management and coaching seem to lack a proper evaluation of their specific personnel and that they’re all too unaware of the human elements affecting their team. Asik’s presence has become a locker room distraction of the kind that championship teams simply don’t allow.
As successfully as the Rockets have recently been playing the fields of free agency and the trade market, their luck was sure to run out eventually. Reputation, if nothing else, inevitably causes rivals and potential partners some heightened weariness, as it has here.
Houston’s finite set of assets to deal with was bound to dwindle, too—in Asik, they’ve got their final movable piece after the storm of dynamic swappings and signings, and the truth is that he simply isn’t that valuable (under these circumstances).
He may be movable in the offseason, but only to a team looking to tank away their 2014-15 season, and indications are that there will be much fewer of those next year than there were this season.
And why wait that long, anyway? If the Rockets want to win now, they’ll have to own up to their court deficits—perimeter defense chief among them—and address them while getting rid of a distracting, burdensome presence in the figure of Asik.
The time to double down on the court product is now. We’ll soon see just where the Rockets’ priorities lie.