Houston is finalizing a deal to send Omer Asik to New Orleans, league source tells Yahoo Sports.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 26, 2014
One the night before the 2014 NBA Draft, a draft in which the New Orleans Pelicans have zero picks, the team still found a way to make a splash that could have more impact on the 2014-15 season than a majority of the draft picks tonight will make. The Pelicans traded a reportedly top-three and 20-30 protected first-round pick in the 2015 draft to the Houston Rockets for center Omer Asik and $1.5 million in cash.
The Pelicans were terrible at protecting the rim last season, with Greg Stiemsma and Alexis Ajinca combining to form a duo inside that not only let opponents score often, but fouled so much that the Pelicans led the league in free throw attempts allowed. Young Anthony Davis did what he could, finishing third in the league in blocks, but his technique is still not refined enough for him to be a difference maker at the rim by himself.
The Pelicans needed to address this issue this offseason, especially as the team’s two closest things to centers, Stiemsma and Jason Smith, are free agents. However, they didn’t have the cap space to be able to make a big free agent acquisition in order to solve this issue.
If the Pelicans wanted to grab a center, they would likely have had to use their mid-level exception to do so, but also have a gaping hole at small forward. If they decided to fill that need with the MLE, a bit player for about $1 million-$2 million per year was likely the only solution.
Instead of attempting to fill the gap with a solid veteran like Marcin Gortat or a young free agent with some promise left like Kevin Seraphin, the Pelicans would have had to turn to the likes of Ryan Hollins and Cole Aldrich to attempt to plug the hole.
Now, with Asik, the Pelicans have their rim protector to pair with Anthony Davis. Davis and Asik is a solid pairing in theory, and was actually discussed last summer.
Asik has long been praised for his efforts on the defensive end, particularly as a rim protector. He is the type of anchor that Davis needs alongside him, someone who can block shots and corral big, aggressive post scorers like David West and Zach Randolph, who Davis struggled against last year.
Asik allowed 47.7 percent at the rim when he was in the area last season, per SportVU. His block numbers have been down since his move to the Rockets, but he’s become much more technically sound, and doesn’t have an excessive foul rate, which is great news.
Asik is also a terror on the glass, which will surely help what was a poor rebounding team last season. The Pelicans often had to gang rebound in order to compensate for not having the personnel to patrol the glass.
Asik averaged 14.1 rebounds per 36 minutes last season and is two years removed from finishing second in the league in rebounding rate. That goes a long way to fix this issue.
Asik can allow Davis to get out in transition more frequently, which is a gift to the rest of the league, and will bail out Ryan Anderson, who had a terrible year on the glass last season. Instead of Al-Farouq Aminu being arguably the Pelicans’ best pure rebounder, they now have one of the best rebounders in the league.
Offensively, Asik is quite limited still, taking 91 percent of his shots from inside three feet from the basket last season, per Basketball-Reference. However, Asik has plenty of experience playing in small ball lineups as the primary interior player, given that he played in Houston for two years.
With Ryan Anderson’s shooting prowess and Davis improving (reports are that he’s even adding the corner 3 to his arsenal) from outside, Asik should have plenty of space to operate in the post and on the offensive glass.
In nearly every aspect, this is a great fit at center for New Orleans. Even many of Asik’s weaknesses will be hidden by playing with Anderson and Davis.
He’s not a great free throw shooter, but the Davis’s continued defensive improvement should allow the Pelicans to easily switch to Anderson/Davis in the frontcourt for stretches if teams decide to start hacking Asik. Asik is also pretty slow, but again, Davis’s ability to cover ground better than almost any post in the NBA will aid Asik if the Pelicans run into a quicker frontcourt.
The Pelicans also don’t have to worry about pick-and-roll defense as much, as despite his slow feet, Asik was a top-25 PNR defender last season, per Synergy.
The main issues that exist with the Asik trade involve flexibility of the roster and the salary cap, and these are quite significant. The Pelicans were already at about $58.3 million dollars for the 2014-15 salary cap, and adding Asik’s $8.4 million deal puts them over the projected cap of $63.2 million.
They also have several cap holds they will need to work around before July 1, as cap holds push that number to about $73.5 million, well above the limit. Al-Farouq Aminu and Jason Smith are more than likely the big catches here, as their holds add up to more than $11 million.
They also have decisions to make regarding Brian Roberts, Darius Miller, and James Southerland, who are all hitting restricted free agency. Roberts and Southerland are probably gone, with Miller likely leaving if he gets any sort of offer higher than his $1.1 million qualifying offer.
If Miller came back, that would put them at about $63.5 million for eight players, nine if you count Jeff Withey‘s non-guaranteed deal. The Pelicans would have to fill three to four roster spots, and with no draft picks to do this, would need to fill several needs on very limited cap freedom.
One potential answer for a spot is Pierre Jackson, who lit up the D-League last year, and will be on the Pelicans’ Summer League team this July. He’s probably a shoo-in to replace Roberts.
The Pelicans will also still have the $5.3 million mid-level exception, which will more than likely be used on an answer at small forward. Their options will be severely limited by only being able to make this offer, but they still have options, like the heavily underrated Cartier Martin, Wesley Johnson, or Alan Anderson could be had at this price.
The last roster spots will likely be filled by vet’s minimum types, guys who can be picked up from Summer League or off the waiver wire. The Pelicans will also have the option to waive Alexis Ajinca in season if they can find an upgrade.
This cap situation is not ideal, by any means, but it is a start, and with basically the entire core in place, the Pelicans should have a decent team set up in 2014-15. At the worst they’re a replica of the 2012-13 Portland Trail Blazers, with a solid top six or seven players and no depth, which would not be ideal, but could still potentially be in contention for a playoff spot.
Next summer, Asik’s contract will be up and Eric Gordon‘s will be a very expensive expiring, meaning the team will have slightly more space to work with.
The other major issue this trade presents is the potential loss of another draft pick. However, the Pelicans only relinquish the pick if it falls between picks 4-19 in the 2015 draft, which makes things a little bit more workable than this year’s top-five protected pick going to Philadelphia. If the Pelicans make the playoffs, it is probably unlikely they lose the pick; after all, this season’s eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks would have had the 21st pick if they hadn’t dealt their pick.
The lottery protections are a little more scary, as the Pelicans put pressure on themselves to make the playoffs this season or they definitely lose the pick, but they did save the top three protection in order to keep them in play for a top pick. Simply put, the equation becomes this for New Orleans this season: Make the playoffs, and the Pelicans are likely in range of the protection. Miss, and they probably lose the pick.
An Asik trade was not what we expected to happen on the eve of the 2014 draft. However, it fits so well on the court for what the Pelicans want, and the effects on the cap and future drafts are a hinderance, but not entirely crippling, especially if they can find a way to unload Gordon’s contract.
The Pelicans don’t have a draft pick tonight, but will walk away from the draft with a positive frame of mind that they still made a huge splash.