The 2013-14 NBA regular season has officially passed its midway point. The Houston Rockets enter the second half of the season with a record of 29-17, slowly crafting a team identity and rapidly clarifying what must change in order to realize their championship aspirations.
In order to make the final step towards building a title contender in 2013-14, the Rockets must swallow their pride and trade Omer Asik.
The Rockets have come close to trading Asik on a number of different occasions, but have yet to pull the trigger and execute such a deal. Despite the omnipresence of rumors surrounding Asik’s unhappiness in Houston since the Rockets first signed Dwight Howard, Daryl Morey has been reluctant to deal his backup big man.
After months of reports of Morey’s unrealistic expectations for an Asik trade, it’s now time to lower expectations and target needs via an Asik trade. If nothing else, Houston needs to rid itself of potentially paying its backup center $8,374,646 in 2014-15.
I need not say more, but there are more reasons than simply financial obligations.
The Rise of Terrence Jones
Leading up to the 2012 NBA Draft, Kentucky Wildcats star Terrence Jones was overlooked due to the stellar crop of standout freshmen. While Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were going No. 1 and No. 2 overall, Jones fell to No. 18 as the Rockets’ third draft pick of the first round.
Jones is beginning to show why he was one of my top five prospects in 2012.
As Asik sits on the sidelines battling injuries, Jones is averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 27.7 minutes per contest. His star-caliber player hasn’t been consistent, but he’s averaging 15.2 points and 10.0 rebounds during the month of January.
Whether he’s scoring 36 or eight points, Jones has made Asik expendable.
Asik’s greatest value is on defense, but Jones’ versatility is becoming increasingly more significant to team success. He’s not as strong at protecting the rim, with Asik at 43.2 percent and Jones at 51.1 percent in opponent field goal percentage, per NBA.com, but that’s not the story here.
Jones has a significantly more dynamic offensive game, possesses the positional versatility to play any frontcourt position and is a budding weapon on defense. With Jones playing at such a high level, Houston is in a position to deal an asset in order to fill holes.
With or without Asik, Houston’s defense is doing just fine.
Defense is Fine Without Asik
The No. 1 reason that the Rockets gave Asik a contract during the summer of 2012 was the impact that he provides on the defensive end of the floor. He’s not a prolific shot blocker or a conventional rim protector, but his energy is infectious and his physicality is valuable.
At this point in time, Asik’s value has run thin in Houston.
Houston is viewed as an offensive-minded team with few reasons to believe in their prowess on defense. Plain and simple, those defensive woes are overstated.
Despite playing just 17 games with Asik in the rotation, Houston is actually one of the best defensive teams in the league—it all depends on how you measure things.
As it presently stands, Houston is No. 4 in opponent field goal percentage and No. 8 in opponent 3-point field goal percentage. By comparison, the Rockets were No. 15 in opponent field goal percentage and No. 8 in opponent 3-point field goal percentage just one season ago.
Many will harp on Houston’s rank of No. 20 in scoring defense, but that’s a product of the extremely fast pace that allows opponents to receive a high number of possessions per game. Houston is No. 7 in the NBA in pace factor and allows the second-most field goal attempts of any team in the league at 88.0 per game.
You could make a case that Houston’s defensive success is a result of Asik’s presence on the court, but that would be unfounded. He hasn’t played a single game since Dec. 2. Before that, he was averaging 18.3 minutes per game.
The defense has improved because of the development of Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones, and the arrival of Dwight Howard. Asik is not without reason for gratefulness, but the former Chicago Bulls big man has seen his time come and pass in Houston.
Asik could be a defensive anchor for a second unit that ranks No. 26 in second-unit defensive efficiency. Due to his weaknesses on offense, however, the Rockets must learn to value versatility and give Asik what he’s wanted all along: a fresh start.
In this case, giving up a valuable defender is worth finding a trade that can fill the needs that Houston currently possesses.
Close to Championship Contender
The Rockets are painfully close to becoming a true championship contender in the Western Conference. They have an elite center in Dwight Howard, a rising star at power forward in Terrence Jones, a world-class scorer in James Harden and an all-around force at small forward in Chandler Parsons.
The fact of the matter is, Houston is missing the final piece to the puzzle, and the only way it will win a title is if it finds it. At this point in time, the only way to acquire that player is to execute a trade.
Omer Asik is the trade piece who can make that happen.
Asik’s trade value has decreased due to injuries and Daryl Morey’s over-valuing of his rather one-dimensional big man. That said, Asik is still one of the better defensive centers in the league and provides elite levels of energy and rebounding.
Someone will bite if Houston becomes realistic with their demands.
Bill Ingram of Basketball Insiders previously reported that the Dallas Mavericks proposed a deal that would send Shane Larkin and Shawn Marion to Houston for Asik. Sam Smith of NBA.com reports that the Boston Celtics are interested in trading Jeff Green for Asik.
Per Zach Lowe of Grantland.com, the Phoenix Suns were willing to include Channing Frye to help facilitate an Asik trade. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York relayed that the Rockets had proposed a trade of Asik and Jeremy Lin for Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets reportedly laughed at the idea of trading a star, Williams, for two role players in Asik and Lin. That’s how unrealistic the Rockets’ expectations have become.
The truth of the matter is, the Rockets aren’t going to find the perfect deal for Asik, mainly because he’s an imperfect player. He’s something of a Kendrick Perkins in the sense that, he’s due a lot of money, plays hard-nose defense and provides great value with his toughness, but he doesn’t have a single skill on offense.
When a player has hands of stone, as Asik does, he becomes a liability on offense.
In terms of adding to the offense, Frye would be a dream acquisition due to his status as one of the NBA’s greatest stretch 4′s. He’s currently averaging 12.4 points on 42.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 28.4 minutes for the Suns.
For defensive purposes, the trade with Dallas isn’t as unfavorable as the rivalry may make it seem. First and foremost, Houston would let go of Asik’s massive 2014-15 salary, and they’d land a player who has done an excellent job of slowing down some of the NBA’s elite scorers: Shawn Marion.
Due to his positional versatility, the Rockets could either go bigger or smaller with Marion at the 3 or 4. This permits the use of James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard with Marion on the floor.
Most importantly, Marion has an expiring contract that will help free Houston’s hands in pursuing a free agent this summer.
Regardless of where the Rockets turn—and there will be options that haven’t been reported or rumored—they must trade Asik. His trade value is strong enough to land a quality player, and that’s what the Rockets need to make the leap to the next level.
The question is, will Daryl Morey stop over-valuing his energy man? Or will Houston do what needs to be done to make a run at a title?