Efforts to trade Asik by a self-imposed December deadline fell short, making it likely he would remain in Houston through 2013-14 and beyond. At least, that's was Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was telling people.
"At this point, Omer is very likely going to be here until the end of his contract at the end of next season, not this season," Morey said during a question-and-answer session with Rockets season-ticket holders in January, per Clutchfans' Ben DuBose.
Morey and the Rockets have apparently changed their minds. CBS Sports' Ken Berger now indicates they're trying to move their big man once again:
The Rockets have renewed efforts to trade disgruntled center Omer Asik, with the Philadelphia 76ers emerging once again as a potential landing spot, league sources told CBSSports.com on Tuesday.
The two teams engaged in serious discussions on an Asik deal in December, when the Rockets were trying to move the defensive-minded center so they could aggregate any players acquired for use in future deals. With that possibility long gone, Houston GM Daryl Morey has re-opened trade talks, and the Sixers have more payroll flexibility than any team in the league to make a deal work.
In true NBA trade deadline fashion, conflicting reports abound. Sam Amick of USA Today says Asik is likely trapped in Houston:
The problem in any Asik deal, as it's always been, is what Houston wants in return. Amid previous trade rumors, one rival general manager told Berger that Morey's asking price was "delusional," contributing to Houston's inability to trade him.
Are the Rockets ready to lower their expectations and finally move the unhappy Asik, or will overvaluing their seldom-used asset cost them yet again?
Atop every general manager's deadline wish list are imminent draft picks, and Morey is no different.
The 2014 and 2015 draft classes are expected to be incredibly deep, which make forthcoming first-rounders valuable assets for teams of all states and directions.
Rebuilding factions can hoard and protect them in hopes of landing a franchise building block. Contending teams can acquire them in an effort to snag immediate complementary players via the draft itself or as part of a blockbuster trade.
But while Berger says the Rockets are indeed seeking a first-round pick, he also acknowledges it's going to be difficult, if not impossible, for them to nab one. For starters, teams are reluctant to part with any 2014 or 2015 selections, fearing they could be trading away future stars for immediate risk.
"Either everyone wants to keep their picks or if you want to trade players, people are trying to get your pick and people aren’t as apt to do something like that—not only this year, but next year, too," Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders told The Pioneer Press' Andy Greder.
Asik himself isn't improving Houston's ability to quench its thirst for first-rounders, either.
Landing a coveted draft pick would have been more realistic last year, when Asik was a double-double machine averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Flipping him for a valuable draft pick now is beyond challenging. Not only is he averaging 3.9 points and 6.5 rebounds through 20 appearances, but teams also know he wants out.
Leverage doesn't exist in situations like these. Opposing general managers know Houston's need for Asik is minimal with Dwight Howard playing the 5, and his market value only diminishes when accompanied with subpar production and deteriorating attitude.
In reality, the Rockets need to bolster their defense just as much as anything. Howard's arrival hasn't improved their standing much, but they're still tied for tied for 13th in defensive efficiency, so three-point shooting takes priority.
The Rockets are converting 35 percent of their long balls, which ranks 20th among all NBA teams and is inexcusable when you consider they lead the league in treys attempted per game (25.8).
Howard—a dangerous, defense-sucking pick-and-roll finisher—and James Harden—a drive-and-kick, reckless rim-attack mastermind—are best served surrounded by shooters. While the Rockets have some, the most notable of which is Chandler Parsons, they don't have many. If they're to make a deep playoff run in the powerhouse-laden Western Conference, they're going to need more.
It makes sense, then, that Berger says they're interested in the Philadelphia 76ers' Spencer Hawes, who has morphed into a lethal-shooting stretch forward currently hitting 40.3 percent of his deep balls on the season
This is a common theme. In the past, ESPN's Marc Stein indicated they showed interest in other floor-spacing forwards such as Jeff Green, Thaddeus Young and Paul Millsap, so the Rockets know what they need.
But that's meant little in the scheme of things, since Asik is still eating up valuable cap space in Houston.
The Right Contract
It's always about the money.
On it's own, Asik's contract is difficult to move since, as Berger writes, he will be paid $15 million in 2014-15, though his cap hit will only account for $8.4 million. It's even more difficult to move when the Rockets may be unwilling to take on long-term salary in return.
Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears reported that the Rockets were looking to move both Jeremy Lin and Asik, suggesting they're interested in creating some financial flexibility—which makes sense, given they're approaching an interesting dilemma with Parsons.
As I wrote previously:
The former second-round draft pick is earning under $1 million this year. At season's end, the Rockets can exercise a team option worth, once again, under $1 million that allows them to retain the 25-year-old.
Seems like a no-brainer since Parsons is currently averaging 17.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, right?
Not so fast.
Exercising that team option means Parsons will become an unrestricted free agent in 2015; declining it means he will become a restricted free agent this summer. In restricted free agency, the Rockets have the right to match any offer sheet Parsons signs. Unrestricted free agency gives them no such power, increasing the likelihood they would have to pay him more or lose him entirely.
Allowing Parsons to hit unrestricted free agency is risky, but also potentially beneficial.
If the Rockets manage to move Asik and Lin in favor of expiring deals, that's $16.8 million in total cap hits they won't have next season. From there, they can simply exercise their chump-change option on Parsons and attempt to add a fourth impact player to a core of Parsons, Howard and Harden with the cap room they'll have created. They could then re-sign Parsons in 2015.
Look for players like Hawes, whose contract comes off the books after this year, to draw interest from Houston as it continues attempting to build a powerhouse of its own.
Asking Too Much?
Houston is handcuffing itself with an inordinately high asking price for a big man who has barely played. Asik doesn't hold the value he once did, making it near impossible for the Rockets to satisfy every one of the requirements just discussed.
Further complicating matters is the fact that a sudden willingness to adjust expectations may not help. Berger says the Sixers would also be seeking a first-round pick in any Hawes deal, and something similar can be said for any interest the Rockets show in Green or Young.
The time to move Asik was over the summer, when his frequent double-doubles weren't mementos of the past. And if not over the summer, then he most certainly should have been dealt before December was out, when the Rockets shopped him the first time around.
Much like a piece of real estate kept on the market for too long, Asik's value is now stale, soured by time and indecision, making it so the Rockets cannot move him unless they accept far less than what they actually want.
*Salary information via ShamSports.