Wherever Dwight Howard goes, drawn-out trade situations will follow. This time around it's not involving Howard himself, but his backup, Omer Asik.
With self-imposed deadlines being ignored and talks being suspended, we might need to buckle up for a long ride. Asik is undoubtedly a valuable asset, and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey probably isn't going to make a panic trade, particularly not while the team is winning games.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle in trading Asik is the same thing keeping Jeremy Lin with the Rockets.
The so-called "poison pill" contracts have taken on a few different definitions, but in short, Asik and Lin both being owed $15 million next season in actual salary is going to be tough for any team to swallow.
Houston has found too many teams leery of Asik's contract next season, and hasn't found a deal it wants.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) December 19, 2013
Lin and Asik are in similar situations right now, even if they've provided different results on the floor this season.
While Asik has struggled mightily, particularly next to Dwight Howard, Lin has put together a very solid start to the year (17.9 PER, 63.7 true shooting percentage, 17.9 points per 36 minutes) despite being banged up with injuries.
When it comes to the trade game, though, it can often be more about supply and demand than production. The league has never been filled with more capable point guards than it is right now, and so the market for Lin is likely very small.
For a defensive-minded center like Asik, however, the demand certainly seems present.
While Houston has clear reasons to trade Asik, the motivations for moving Lin are a little more difficult to see.
Patrick Beverley and Aaron Brooks have both done a fine job at the point for Houston, but neither has completely pushed Lin out of substantial playing time like Howard has done to Asik. Beverley can play on or off the ball, and Brooks is best as a change-of-pace player, anyway. There are basketball reasons to keep Lin.
Just as Asik's fate is attached to Howard, though, Lin's fate may be attached to Asik. If the Rockets can move their disgruntled big man for expiring deals, Lin's cap number of $8.3 million next year is the only thing standing in the way of Houston and significant cap space.
Because of that, Lin might be a package deal with Asik. Here's Ken Berger of CBS Sports explaining more:
Multiple league executives also said the Rockets are open to packaging Jeremy Lin with Asik, but that scenario appears unlikely as well. As one executive said of Lin, "I'm not sure there are many, if any, takers for him right now."
And that brings us back to square one. It's clear that the Rockets want to deal Asik. If the return is a point guard or expiring contracts, there will be plenty of reason to trade Lin as well. But which teams out there would actually want Lin, particularly when they'll have to actually pay him $15 million next season?
Let's take a look at a few potential suitors.
Finding a team that needs a point guard and can absorb Lin's salary is tough, but the Magic are on the short list.
Orlando is currently trotting out 31-year-old point guard Jameer Nelson every night, which is a little strange for a rebuilding team to do. This could be Nelson's last year with Orlando, however, as only $2 million of his $8 million expiring deal next season is guaranteed.
Nelson's contract matches up perfectly with Lin's, and Orlando likely won't be ready to attract big-time free agents until the 2015 offseason, because of both their status and their projected cap room.
If Magic general manager Rob Hennigan believes in Lin's potential as a starting point guard, perhaps it would be worth the extra money to give him a shot with Orlando's young core. A three-man backcourt rotation of Lin, Victor Oladipo and Arron Afflalo can work fairly easily, especially since Afflalo can play small forward.
But how much would Orlando be willing to give up for Lin? Assuming that this deal would be following a trade for Asik, Houston may be willing to take less than "fair" value to create cap space, similar to what we saw this offseason. Here's the trade:
Orlando Receives: PG Jeremy Lin (2 years, $16.7 million)
Houston Receives: PG Jameer Nelson (2 years, $16.6 million*), PF/C Kyle O'Quinn (2 years, $1.7 million) and a future second-round pick.
*Second year is guaranteed for only $2 million.
If Asik was traded for an expiring deal in addition to this move, the Rockets could clear as much as $14.3 million off next year's books, giving them roughly $16 million in projected cap space, depending on other decisions. Creating space for another max player would require a few sacrifices, including losing Chandler Parsons' restricted free-agency year, but it would be possible.
O'Quinn is part of a crowded frontcourt in Orlando, but he'd be a nice rotation piece in Houston. He's a big body with nice touch from about 15 feet, and more importantly, he's cheap.
Even if Orlando decided to address its point guard situation through the draft, Lin could have value as a sixth man for a season, or even as an expiring contract. Lin meshes with the salary schedule Hennigan has put together, and aside from the money, this feels like a relatively low-risk move to make with some upside, depending on Orlando's evaluation of Lin's talent.
The Bucks are another team without a clear-cut starting point guard. Nate Wolters has looked very reliable early on in his rookie year, but it's hard to say if he's the future in Milwaukee. Brandon Knight is probably more of a sixth man than anything else.
Is that enough for Milwaukee to justify shelling out cash and assets for Lin? It depends on what the objective is.
Lin has shown the ability to draw plenty of fans, which might be important given Milwaukee's uncertain future as a franchise. If the goal is to make the playoffs next year, and it seemingly always is, then Lin could be a good fit in a pick-and-roll-heavy offense with John Henson and Larry Sanders.
Here's the trade:
Milwaukee Receives: PG Jeremy Lin (2 years, $16.7 million)
Houston Receives: PG Luke Ridnour (1 year, $4.4 million), PF/C Ekpe Udoh (1 year, $4.4 million) and a future second-round pick.
For Houston, this isn't much more than a salary dump. Again, this trade only makes sense if Asik is moved for expiring deals, as the asking price would be much higher otherwise.
That being said, Udoh is an intriguing player who hasn't been able to play much in Milwaukee's murky frontcourt. He hasn't lived up to being the sixth pick in the 2010 draft, but he has proven to be a very good shot blocker with a nice little mid-range game. He'd be a rental, but in the right lineups, he could be a factor in limited time.
Ridnour could provide some depth off the bench as well, although his love for mid-range jumpers might not be a great fit with what Houston likes to do.
The Bucks would be forfeiting some cap space, but it's unlikely they'd be a big factor in free agency anyway. This is a team that should be rebuilding, but we've seen over the years that Bucks owner Herb Kohl isn't a fan of that. A splashy trade for Lin fits with Milwaukee's M.O. quite well.
If the Rockets are able to trade Jeremy Lin, the haul likely won't be much more than cap space. It seems extremely unlikely that any team would give up a future first-round pick for Lin, which would likely be the desired return for Houston before any Asik deal.
If the Rockets bring back players on existing contracts in an Asik deal, it seems more likely that Lin will stay with Houston, at least until he's an expiring contract at the trade deadline next year and some of his salary is already paid.
At least until the Asik trade goes down and we see what comes back in return, Lin should be safe in Houston.