Every summer, teams acquire new players that often have fans scratching their heads as to how the new rotations will work. The past offseason, the Houston Rockets brought in Dwight Howard, even with last year’s starting center, Omer Asik, still on the team.
Both of these players play the same position and have redundant skill sets, so it's been interesting to see how coach Kevin McHale has managed the two. Well, “manage” might be the wrong word choice, as the two have not been able to mesh while on the court together, resulting in Asik’s first DNP in 280 games Thursday against the Knicks.
Since his time in Chicago, Asik has proven that he is a starting-caliber center in the NBA, posting over 10 points and 8 rebounds in addition to playing elite defense in his first year as a starter last year. But since he began losing minutes (and ultimately being benched), Asik has requested a trade from Houston.
A potential Asik trade has been the most intriguing trade rumor over the past couple of months, with many suitors and ramifications. But before we hit on some possible destinations, what exactly went wrong in Houston?
The Twin Towers Experiment
After an offseason of hype, the Rockets are a much improved, potentially elite team despite their 6-4 record. Based on numberFire’s efficiency metric, nERD, Houston has been the fifth-best team through the first couple weeks of the season. And this success comes from both ends of the floor, as the Rockets rank sixth with an offensive rating of 107.1 (points per 100 possessions) and defensive rating of 105.4, a league average mark. But what happens when “The Twin Towers” play together?
When Asik and Howard share the floor, the Rockets post below league average +/- numbers on both offense and defense. This was to be expected on offense as they are both post-oriented players, with limited shooting or passing abilities which kill offensive spacing, but the real concern is on the defensive end.
Asik is one of the best defenders in the league at the center position, but hasn’t been playing that way this year. His per 36 minutes numbers have declined greatly since last year, especially his Block% of 2.0 - almost half of his career average. He is also rebounding three percent less of the available boards than last year, ultimately contributing to a career low DRtg of 103.
Not only is Asik playing at the worst level of his young career, with a nERD this season of -1.7 (109th in the NBA), but he doesn’t mesh with the Rockets current lineup and the direction that they’re going in. So now what? Who are the best trade partners for Asik and the Rockets?
New Orleans Pelicans
They Pelicans are not only the most likely trade partner for the Rockets, but a deal with New Orleans would make the most sense. A trade based around a simple Omer Asik for Ryan Anderson swap almost makes too much sense.
Anderson, an elite shooter and floor stretcher, has finished in the top two in three-pointers made two season in a row. He is also an underrated rebounder, as his career 16.5% defensive rebounding rate will help replace the loss of Asik. If the Rockets were to acquire Anderson, he would add to the team’s already potent three-point shooting arsenal while stretching the floor in order to give Dwight Howard, his former teammate, more room to operate on pick and rolls and in post-ups.
Asik would also fill an immediate hole for the Pelicans. With guys like Jason Smith playing the majority of the minutes at center, the Pels have been a disappointment on defense. With a DRtg of 104.2 and REB% of 49.3%, both ranking in the bottom-10 in the league, the team needs some help on defense despite Anthony Davis ascension to stardom. Not only will Asik dramatically improve the team’s defense, but will also allow Davis to play more time at his natural position of power forward.
So what’s holding this deal up? Certainly not the salaries, as they are both being paid $8 million this year. The only plausible reason is that New Orleans desires Anderson’s three-point shooting to complement its backcourt tandem, who penetrate often and need kick-out options. Other than that, I see no reason why GMs Daryl Morey and Dell Demps aren’t getting this deal done.
A deal with the league’s most surprising team doesn’t make as much sense as with the Pelicans, but there is room for exploration. Despite their hot start, the 76ers are tanking this year, and have over $10 million in cap room, which screams of a trade destination. They also have some intriguing assets. While they likely won’t give up any lottery picks or young assets like Michael Carter-Williams or Nerlens Noel, there are still some possibilities.
Thaddeus Young is a terrific young player with solid shooting skills and very good athleticism for his position, but he has three years left on his contract with almost $28 million remaining, something GM Sam Hinkie might want to part with. Philadelphia also has assets like Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes on the last year of their deals, who would be instant difference makers to Houston’s rotation.
There isn’t one obvious trade scenario between the two teams, but Philly has the cap room to take on some of Houston’s expiring contracts and possesses assets that Houston would seek in return for Asik, making this a possibility.
Los Angeles Clippers
L.A. is a very unlikely destination for Asik and his contract, as the Clippers are already $14 million over the cap and in the luxury tax. But I can’t help but imagine the possibilities.
numberFire has the Clippers as the seventh-best team in the NBA with a nERD of 59.4, and Asik could be the final piece to push this team over the top. With a DRtg of 105.7, the Clippers rank 26th in the NBA, and that is due to their lack on interior defense and rim protection.
Starting center DeAndre Jordan has a career DRtg of 104 despite his reputation as an elite shot blocker and rebounder, and simply isn’t the defensive anchor the Clippers hoped for. The addition of Asik would give L.A. the defensive boost they need, while not hurting their league leading offense as Asik plays a similar role offensively as Jordan.
Whether it’s Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan, or Joakim Noah, most title contenders have elite big-man defenders. If the Clippers were to add Asik, I firmly believe that they would become the team to beat in the Western Conference. However, LA simply doesn’t have room to work with in terms of matching salary or giving Houston the necessary talent they require.
While he remains the most intriguing trade rumor in the NBA, an Asik trade likely won’t happen before December 15th as that's when most of this off-seasons acquisitions become trade eligible. But I do believe he will be traded, considering an asset like Asik will do no good sitting on the bench, especially with so many teams needing a big-man defender like him. I’d put my money on a Rockets-Pelicans deal.