With the Rockets potentially looking to make a big move for Kevin Love or another star player this summer, we are going to take a moment to take stock of what is in the cupboard for Daryl Morey to offer. We assessed Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons earlier this week, and today, we're going to look at Omer Asik.
Wednesday, May 28th: Omer Asik
Thursday, May 29th: Jeremy Lin
Rest of series: TBA
In July of 2012, the Rockets were seemingly in disarray. They had gone into the draft with their sights set on a big move up, but found themselves with three mid-first rounders instead, had lost one point guard in a trade and the other in free agency, and amnestied their longest tenured player and starting power forward, Luis Scola.
What the roster would look like was a mystery, and the Rockets had a number of holes to fill. Omer Asik, the bench player for the Bulls, was set to fill one of those holes as a lockdown defending center. Now, two years later, the Rockets find themselves in vastly different circumstances. Asik is now a backup, and is on a team with championship aspirations. With his role suddenly decreased with the arrival of Dwight Howard, could the Rockets send him packing in a big deal?
Asik has one year left on a 3 year, $25 million deal that he signed in 2012, with a cap hit of $8.3 million to any team that acquires him. His true salary, however, is $15 million, because of the way that contracts given out to restricted free agents with "early bird" status are structured. The Rockets could not offer Asik a starting salary of greater than $5 million, so he earned $5 million and $5.5 million in his first two years before his salary escalates to $15 million this season.
This "balloon payment" as it has been referenced in the media creates some problems for Asik's trade value. Any team acquiring him will be taking on more salary as Asik's cap hit is far outpaced by his true salary, and for penny-pinching teams, that could create problems. For the Knicks or Lakers, it would be less of a concern, as Asik not only counts for $8.3 against the cap, he also counts for that figure towards the luxury tax.
His Value as a Player
There aren't too many players who can match Asik's ability on the defensive end. With a combination of excellent footwork, impressive strength, and elite discipline, Asik is a tremendously valuable player that can be the centerpiece of any defense.
In the post, Asik is able to hold his position with ease, using his huge frame to his advantage, but he is also quick enough to help off his man and provide cover for guards who get blown by easily. Though he has had trouble with fouls at times during his career, he tends to do a very good job at challenging shots while staying vertical, allowing him to block shots and contest them without fouling.
All in all, he's one of the best interior defenders in the league. On the offensive end, however, Asik tends to struggle. He has no range and thus he has a tendency to hurt floor spacing, especially when playing alongside another post player, and he struggles to finish at the rim despite his length and strength. If he were more aggressive and simply dunked the ball more often, he would have a lot more success on that end.
Moreover, Asik struggles to catch passes as he is not an especially coordinated player. For as much as he makes full use out of his big frame on the defensive end, he is the opposite on the offensive end. Instead of using his big body for positioning and to clear out defenders when on offense, Asik too often is happy to be passive and gives up the ball too easily.
Despite his offensive inadequacies, Asik is still one of the most valuable centers in the league. With hand checking banned by the league, guards are getting into the paint with greater ease in recent years, and having a big center who can patrol the paint and help on those drives is of utmost importance. Even with his price tag, Asik is more than worth it to the right team.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that Asik is a very gifted center, and one of the league's best at what he does. Personally, I think whatever concerns there are about Asik's contract are just bargaining ploys by teams who are trying to negotiate with the Rockets. If a team is going to acquire Asik, they're not doing it just for one year. They're doing it with the expectation that they will re-sign him to a longer deal.
If that is the case, spending a few extra million on him (while keeping their salary cap matters secure) should not be a big concern. Simply because there are so few players of Asik's caliber at the center spot, he represents the team's best trade chip. And with a talented player like Dwight Howard ahead of him and his inevitable departure at the end of the season, the team can talk themselves into trading him.