Hopes are suddenly on the rise for the Boston Celtics in the weak Eastern Conference, where the team's 12-15 record is good enough to lead the Atlantic Division. Adding Omer Asik to the mix would provide another reason for optimism in Boston.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported talks between the Celtics and Houston Rockets were heating up, with Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a first-round pick being the assets floated around by Boston in a potential deal:
Asik has been the focus of trade banter ever since the Rockets signed prized free agent Dwight Howard. The move clearly pointed toward a severely diminished role for the Turkish center, and that's been the case, as he's played nearly 12 minutes fewer per game as compared to last season.
The situation really started to heat up last month. At the time, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle passed along comments from Asik, who said he was frustrated but didn't want to directly address any trade requests:
"The thing is, I was just frustrated," Asik said at Tuesday’s shootaround. "It’s behind me now. I’m just looking forward to help my team to win."
Asik did not address his trade request or his unwillingness to play or practice last week.
When asked if he still wanted to be traded, Asik would not comment.
"I do not talk about that," he said. "I never talk about that. My focus is just winning tonight’s game (against the Celtics) and helping my team as much as I can."
Asik is coming off a breakout season which saw him average a double-double (10 points and nearly 12 rebounds) while shooting 54 percent from the floor. So it doesn't come as a major surprise that he wouldn't be pleased returning to the limited role he previously played with the Chicago Bulls.
At the same time, Houston would be wise to move him while he still possesses value. It will be hard for him to remain a coveted trade target while averaging fewer than five points per contest.
Finding the right deal hasn't been easy, though. But now it sounds like the Celtics are at least in the ballpark, and he would be a perfect fit in Boston.
The Celtics lack a reliable center. Jared Sullinger and Bass are both natural power forwards but have also been playing the best among the team's frontcourt, so they have each logged minutes in the middle depending on the lineup.
Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani, the true centers on the roster, have failed to make the type of impact necessary to get extended playing time.
In turn, the Celtics rank 23rd in rebounds and 15th in rebound differential. Sullinger leads the team in that category at a shade over seven per game.
Asik would fill the void by providing stability in the middle, which would also then allow Sullinger to play his more natural forward role.
The other good news for the Celtics is the fact Rajon Rondo recently returned to full-contact practice. Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe reports there's no definitive timetable for his return, but those watching liked what they saw:
Rondo, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last January, participated in a 45-minute session Saturday. How did he look?
"Pretty good," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said with a smile.
Celtics forward Brandon Bass said Rondo looked "good" and "solid."
If the Celtics can add Asik and get Rondo back at full strength, suddenly the starting lineup will be a lot more potent. The door is certainly wide open given the struggles outside of the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat in the East.
Noted Celtics fan Bill Simmons of Grantland provided his thoughts about how things are playing out:
It's been nearly a day since the original report from Wojnarowski about the potential trade with Houston. Whether there's a hangup somewhere in the deal or the sides are just finalizing things is unclear, but Boston should work hard to get it done.
Asik is perfectly suited to fill the center void for the Celtics.