General manager Daryl Morey has generally done an outstanding job building a contender with the Houston Rockets, but his latest move might have been a case of overplaying his hand.
The Rockets had wanted to trade unhappy backup center Omer Asik before Friday in order to ensure maximum roster flexibility. Players acquired via trade after Friday cannot be dealt again this season, with the exception of one-for-one trades.
Morey may be overvaluing Asik, who is a solid, if unspectacular, center, but one who has a terrifically awful contract. When Asik signed with Houston before the 2012-13 season, he agreed to a three-year, $25 million deal that pays him $5 million in each of the first two seasons before escalating to $15 million in 2014-15.
Asik was a restricted free agent and the so-called poison pill of the huge third year was enough to prevent the Chicago Bulls from matching the offer. But it’s the same thing that is now preventing Morey from getting the return he’s after for Asik. From a salary cap perspective, it’s $8.3 million per year (the average annual value). But in 2014-15, some team, somewhere, is going to be writing some very large checks with Mr. Asik’s name on them.
Oddly enough, teams balk at the notion of paying superstar money to players who aren’t superstars … unless they were the team to sign the player.
There were some teams rumored to be possible destinations for Asik that didn’t really enter the talks, such as the New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks, each of whom possess the stretch 4 type that Morey craves. The Pelicans have Ryan Anderson and Ersan Ilyasova of the Bucks was also seen as a possible fit in Houston.
What is getting lost in all of this is how good Asik really was for the Rockets last year. He shot 54.1 percent from the floor, although he only averaged 7.5 shots per game, and averaged 11.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks to go with 10.1 points.
But for a team that had a 103.5 defensive rating (points per 100 possessions), the Rockets allowed just 101.3 with Asik on the court and 107 when he was off. Offensively, the Rockets created 107.2 points per 100 possessions with Asik on the floor and 105.9 without him, meaning Asik meant a net of seven points per 100 possessions for a team that won 45 games and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
The Rockets’ D-rating has dropped to 101.3 this season with Dwight Howard on board, but the differentials between Howard and Asik are astonishing.
With Howard on the floor, Houston has an offensive rating of 107 and a defensive mark of 101.8. Without him, those numbers are 106.7 and 100.4.
Yes, Houston plays better defense without Dwight Howard on the court, while only marginally tailing off at the other end.
With Asik, meanwhile, the Rockets score at a 101.9 pace and post a defensive rating of 96.9. Without him, the offensive rating is 108.5 and the defensive rating is 102.7. So the Rockets lose a net one point per 100 possessions with Howard on the floor and lose a net of 0.8 with Asik.
Of course, Asik’s impact this year is much less. He has only played in 17 of Houston’s 27 games and is averaging just 18.3 minutes.
No one is trying to argue that Omer Asik is a better player than Dwight Howard, or more valuable to the Rockets. But the perception that Asik is a big stiff who is nothing more than a backup center is also mistaken. He proved that last season as the defensive anchor for a team that outside of Asik didn’t play a whole lot of defense.
And Morey has done some amazing things in Houston. The deal to acquire a superstar in James Harden might have been the most one-sided deal since the Dutch acquired Manhattan from the Native Americans for some pocket change and a couple of future second-round picks.
Statistical information from NBA.com/Stats.