Houston Rockets: Pros, Cons Of Targeting Ersan Ilyasova

Jan 29, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) drives for the basket during the fourth quarter against the Phoenix Suns at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Phoenix won 126-117. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of the past two calendar years, no NBA team has been as active as the Houston Rockets. From an unlikely trade for a star scorer to high-profile acquisitions via free agency and everything in between, general manager Daryl Morey has been masterful in his crafting of a promising roster.

As the trade deadline grows near, the question for the Rockets is simple: should they pursue Ersan Ilyasova of the Milwaukee Bucks?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reports that the Rockets have long-standing interest in Ilyasova. The risk has been acknowledged, but Houston’s been intrigued by the European power forward for quite some time.

The question is, will either side act on the interest and get a deal done?

There has been talk all season that Houston has eyes for forward Ersan Ilyasova. His numbers on the season have been less than stellar and he is owed a ton of money. It’s unclear if the Bucks would take on one of Houston’s ugly “cash” contracts in order to get out from under Ilyasova but that’s the one to really watch.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking this is a slam-dunk deal.

Ilyasova is a quality player, but he’s also in possession of an ugly contract and overwhelming inconsistency. There is upside, but the evidence suggests that Houston could potentially regret a deal for the 26-year-old, and that must be accounted for.

It’s all about getting to the bottom of whether or not the risk outweighs the reward.

Pro: Perfect D-12 Complement

Feb 10, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) protects the ball from Minnesota Timberwolves center Ronny Turiaf (32) during the first quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

In 2011-12, Ilyasova played in 60 games and posted averages of 13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game. He shot 49.2 percent from the floor, 45.5 percent from three-point range and 78.1 percent from the free throw line.

In turn, he earned himself a new contract and respect as one of the league’s rising stars.

Ilyasova followed that up with a solid campaign in 2012-13. He finished with averages of 13.2 points and 7.1 rebounds on a slash line of .462/.444/.796 in an identical 27.6 minutes per game.

That includes averages of 17.2 points and 9.0 rebounds on a slash line of .487/.449/.865 in 24 games after the All-Star Break.

In 2013-14, Ilyasova’s numbers are down to 10.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in 26.8 minutes per contest. He’s shooting 37.5 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from beyond the arc, and continues to be an underwhelming force on defense.

Ilyasova would inevitably perform at a higher level with better players around him—and he’d certainly see an improvement in terms of his surroundings with Houston over Milwaukee. As a stretch-4 who crashes the boards, he fits the bill as the perfect complement to Dwight Howard.

D-12 prefers to work along the interior, and while Terrence Jones has performed well, he’s shooting 29.9 percent from beyond the arc. By adding Ilyasova, the floor would be spaced for a team that relies as heavily upon its slashers as any in the NBA.

Unfortunately, Houston wouldn’t just be acquiring a high-reward player; they’d be taking on a relatively poor contract.

Con: Ugly Contract

Dec 7, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) grabs a rebound against Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett (2) in the 2nd quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

After shining in 2011-12, Ilyasova received a five-year deal worth $40 million from the Milwaukee Bucks. 2012-13 was the first year of the new contract, leaving two-and-a-half guaranteed seasons remaining and another one with non-guaranteed money.

That’s a tight financial bind for a Rockets team that has already committed money to two debatably regrettable contracts in the past year-and-a-half with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin.

Ilyasova is guaranteed $7.9 million in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16. Ilyasova also has $8.4 million non-guaranteed due to him in 2016-17, making him a player whom the Rockets would be forced to commit for the long-term.

In the midst of a season in which he’s shooting below 38.0 percent from the field, it’s hardly an opportune time to make that commitment. Considering Asik and Lin will become free agents after the 2014-15 season, it becomes even more puzzling of a move.

So does the risk outweigh the reward, or is it the other way around?

Verdict: Worth the Risk

Dec 11, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at BMO Harris Bradley Center. San Antonio won 109-77. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

If Ilyasova weren’t under contract for at least two more full seasons, this would be a significantly easier question to answer. Due to the fact that he’s struggling to do anything with consistency, a hefty contract makes him a tough player to evaluate.

As it presently stands, Ilyasova has shot worse than 40.0 percent in 10 of his past 12 appearances. He’s improved his three-point shooting as the season has progressed, but paying $8 million per season over the next two-to-three years is a heavy commitment for a player who may not provide more than a role player’s contributions.

That type of contract isn’t meant for a player who could turn things around; Houston needs a sure thing. And while Ilyasova could be the missing piece for Houston, he could also be a multi-year headache should things not work out.

In the end, it’s all worth the risk.

Assuming he isn’t traded, the Rockets will pay Omer Asik $14,898,938 in 2014-15. Working under that same assumption, Houston would also be paying Jeremy Lin an identical $14,898,938 in 2014-15.

Both players are solid, but neither is worth $15 million—especially not when they’re coming off of the bench every night.

By trading one of those contracts to acquire Ilyasova, Houston would essentially acquire a player who they pay half as much money. Putting that into perspective, an unfavorable contract becomes easier to cope with.

It’s not the most ideal situation, but if an Asik-for-Ilyasova swap becomes a realistic possibility, Houston should take the risk and pull the trigger.

Topics: Ersan Ilyasova, Houston Rockets

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  • Yu-Hsing Chen

    Ersan is in the midst of a god awful season. You noted Terrence Jones not shooting well from 3 except the problem is that Ersan is shooting just as horribly from 3s so far this year. And it’s hardly a guarantee that he’ll bounce back going forward, given that he shot this bad about 3 seasons ago over a near full season as well.

    He also hasn’t been healthy. nor has he started all the games, Lin has started almost as many games as Ersan (and the Rockets are amusingly better record wise when he starts.), which makes most of this argument rather difficult.

    Asik’s fit with the Bucks is dubious at best, it seems that if there is a trade it has to be Lin for Ersan, but not only is the contract similar. But Lin has clearly been the vastly better player so far this year, and as we’ve discussed many times before, the only team where Lin’s payment make sense is the Rockets, since they payed him 5/5 in the first 2 years anyway, sure, they COULD save 7m next year by doing this trade, but they’re clearly at a stage where they aren’t exactly penny pinching.

    At this stage, I’m fairly sure they’ll just stick with most of the team until end of next year.

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