How exactly did we arrive at this quandary? Well, you could really make an argument that both parties are right and both are wrong.
The Rockets absolutely should have signed Dwight Howard — he’s the best center in the game. On the other hand, it makes no sense to be in this spot, 10 games into the season and wasting one of the NBA’s best defensive centers by nailing him to the pine. Asik, if he has any pride, is right to be upset as he is. After all, he was one of the primary reasons the Rockets were in the playoffs last year and he’s still growing as a player. He deserves to play, but he’s taking the wrong approach by letting it impact his play on the court.
So let’s talk about what’s next. I’ll reiterate what we’ve been saying since the summer: Omer Asik is going to be traded. There’s no getting around that. His contract is up after next season and he’s not inking another deal in Houston. When Asik is traded is the question, and that’s why the timing of this trade demand is compounding the problem.
The Rockets really needed the Twin Towers lineup to work, at least to the point where it could be used consistently. It isn’t because they feel that’s the long-term solution, but because they need to be in a state where they don’t have to make a trade… until the right trade opens up. That means they need Asik satisfied and the squad winning at a decent clip so front offices around the league don’t circle the Toyota Center like vultures on a carcass.
With that experiment failing (so far), the Rockets can’t make use of a very effective player. This isn’t anything like the Jeremy Lin–Patrick Beverley debate, which is much ado about nothing. With two interchangeable guard spots and occasional three-guard lineups, there’s no reason that both Lin and Beverley can’t log 30 minutes a night. If the Rockets can’t play Dwight and Omer together, that caps Asik’s minutes to about 12 a night, tops.
So with Asik logging very few minutes, the Rockets are getting little from a prime asset. Combine that with his unhappiness and the timeline to make a move may be accelerating on Daryl Morey, yet he can’t just trade Asik for simply a useful player — this is his chief trade asset to improve this team.
Ideally, you want to get closer to the trade deadline to field your best offers and see which teams change directions. The dream was to see either Minnesota (Kevin Love) or Portland (LaMarcus Aldridge) fall short of expectations, but both of those teams have come out of the gate strong. There’s no reason to think either team will trade their best players (certainly not right now).
The Rockets need a power forward that has, at a minimum, a strong mid-range game. Without Asik, the Rockets have a backup center issue, so in a perfect world, this four would have the ability to slide over and give the Rockets minutes at the center position in smaller lineups. That’s what makes both Love and Aldridge terrific fits.
The Lakers (4-6) and Pau Gasol are interesting. Gasol is a free agent this summer and any trade would be difficult given that his salary is a beast to match ($19.3M). New Orleans (3-6) would seem to be a good fit — Ryan Anderson is a floor-spacing four with deadly three-point efficiency while Asik could hold down the paint alongside Anthony Davis. Atlanta (4-4) is another intriguing possibility as many think Al Horford is better suited at the four than five. The Hawks recently signed Paul Millsap, who might fit well here (though he can’t be traded until December 15th).
If the Rockets can’t make the kind of trade they need now, I wouldn’t be surprised if they Kyle Lowry-ed this thing, flipping Asik for an asset (first round pick) that would be more attractive to rebuilding teams for a follow-up move. Teams looking to the future are the ideal trade partners for Houston right now since they would be looking to unload win-now talent for draft considerations.
But make no mistake — Asik is going to get traded. It may be this week, this February or this summer, but his days in Houston are numbered.