Asik was on the trading block for the first two months of 2013-14 season, and it seemed obvious that the Rockets should move him.
They had, after all, just signed Dwight Howard to a lucrative deal to be their starting center, and the experiment of playing the two players together looked to be a failure after some early-season folly.
“Any time you have two bigs like that, you’re going to have a slow pace. It’s not what we want,” general manager Daryl Morey said in an interview with ESPN.com. “And the fact that it hasn’t created a big rebounding edge is a problem.”
But Morey seemingly never saw a deal he liked, and the Rockets kept Asik.
He stayed out of the rotation due to injuries for weeks afterward, but later emerged as a pivotal role player off the bench. He then entered the starting lineup to help battle LaMarcus Alrdridge in the Rockets’ first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Asik performed admirably in the playoffs, as he typically does. He’s one of the strongest defenders in the league and a workhorse rebounder who’s not afraid to run the floor and do dirty work in the paint.
He and Howard became an effective combination when their backs were against the wall facing their season’s end, and it’s hard to imagine how Houston could have been competitive against the Blazers—who won the series in six games—without the Turkish big man.
However, if the Rockets want to make way for another big contract—did somebody say Carmelo Anthony?—many believe Asik is the man to move.
Having two terrific centers is a luxury the Rockets can afford to do away with. Spotrac indicates that he and Jeremy Lin will count for over $16 million against the salary cap next year. It’s time to bite the bullet and finally move Asik.
That is, of course, unless the Rockets really liked what they saw from him in the postseason. Salivatory fantasies of what Howard and Asik could be together—how about the best frontcourt in basketball?—should suddenly be safe to entertain yet again.
Houston has held Terrence Jones—the young power forward who started in Asik’s place much of the season—in high regard, but he played poorly against Portland and was a mess defensively all year.
Jones is a tantalizing talent with his speed, creativity and athleticism, but he’s not yet a reliable entity, and there’s no guarantee he ever will be.
In the 27-year-old Asik, the Rockets know what they have: a big body who can free up Howard to further explore his increasingly Olajuwon-esque post moves. With Asik knocking big men around next to him against the Blazers, Basketball-Reference.com indicates that Howard jumped out to a staggering 27.2 player efficiency rating.
Don’t think this was a coincidence. Howard spent much of the season cleaning up Jones’ mistakes defensively and was generally over-taxed as a result.
When he shared the frontcourt with Asik, he was able to focus more on the evolution of his offensive game.
There’s also the issue of who the Rockets would bring in should they unload Asik and Lin’s contracts.
‘Melo is a transcendent scoring talent, but do the Rockets need another one of those? Kevin Love is a diverse, amazing player, but Houston almost certainly can’t put together the package necessary to get Flip Saunders and the Minnesota Timberwolves to cough him up.
On the Kevin Love front, I'm told the Houston Rockets are pretty sure they're outgunned in terms of having the assets that Minnesota wants.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) June 11, 2014
Asik addresses the Rockets’ most pressing area of need: defense. It just took them all season to realize they actually could use him next to Howard.
Holding on to him is only a bad idea under the premise that they see him walking away for no return when he’s an unrestricted free agent next summer.
This is certainly a possibility, as Asik left the Chicago Bulls to get out of Joakim Noah’s shadow, only to find himself living in Howard’s. There’s a good chance his optimal location is somewhere he can be the undisputed best big man on his roster, playing starter's minutes all year.
But as far as 2014-15 is concerned, Asik fits into picture for Houston. The Rockets have played most of their strongest basketball over the last two seasons when he was part of things, and with another season in Houston, Asik and his team could roll their building chemistry into something special.
If the Rockets move Asik this summer, it wouldn’t necessarily be a mistake.
Unless they replace him with a piece that clearly puts them over the top, however, they might regret it. Men of his make don’t come around terribly often in the NBA.