It's past the close of league offices on Dec. 19, Omer Asik is still a Houston Rocket and the world (to my knowledge) has not ended. So, with what I can imagine is the world's first auction for a 7-foot Turkey now beyond us, it's only right to examine what happened and why Asik won't be on the move anytime soon.
Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news earlier Thursday, indicating that the Rockets have ceased all talks regarding Asik. This comes after a torrid negotiation process that sprung wide open on Dec. 15 and was expected to end with the disgruntled big man finally getting his wish—an unquestioned starting spot in a new city.
The Celtics were closest to landing Asik, but a package of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a future first-round pick is pittance for a potential All-Star. The 76ers were also heavily involved in negotiations, but ESPN's Marc Stein reported that they balked at giving up Spencer Hawes and a 2014 first-round choice.
If you look at it superficially, it's pretty simple. Morey didn't get offers he liked for a valuable player, so he backed away. The fuss was all media-related nonsense made to fill time between mid-December injuries and making fun of the Knicks.
Which would be fine if it were remotely true. The reason Asik isn't currently in some cold doctor's office taking a physical in a new city for a new franchise is that Morey overplayed his hand, ruined whatever leverage he had and botched the entire negotiation process.
The ownership of leverage is the most precious of commodities in the murky underworld of NBA trades. It's, at times, more precious than draft picks, young assets or even the centerpiece of a multi-layered transaction.
Leverage is how the Jazz parlayed Deron Williams into almost the entirety of their young core. With a year and a half left on his contract, Williams had essentially worn out his welcome in Utah. He clashed with head coach Jerry Sloan and pushed the Hall of Famer to his breaking point, all while alienating others behind the scenes. But rather than opening up an auction process, the Jazz shockingly shipped Williams to New Jersey for a massive haul in retrospect; Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Trey Burke all have direct ties to the Williams deal.
The opposite, of course, can hamstring a general manager. For example, the Nuggets shipped Carmelo Anthony to the Big Apple one day before the Williams deal. Anthony made it widely known he had an interest in playing for only one franchise, and had the ability to hit the free-agent market after the 2010-11 season. While Masai Ujiri worked his magic to get the best possible package, Denver's trade partners were New York, New York and New York—not exactly the best way to wring the most value.
As for the Asik fiasco, Morey somehow wound up leaving himself less leverage than even Ujiri.
The Rockets did everything but scream from the mountaintops that they would deal Asik by Dec. 19. And, considering the chorus of reporters who "broke" the same story, Houston might have been more subtle if it actually held a news conference atop a mountain. Everyone—and I mean everyone—knew this deadline was in place. Team executives, scouts, Asik, doofy-looking blonde-haired writers, everyone was just waiting for the news to break.
Like everything, Houston's self-imposed deadline was based in logic. By getting the deal done on or before Dec. 19, the Rockets would have been able to use any assets acquired in a theoretical Asik deal to make another trade by the deadline. With the Rockets noticeably being a solid wing defender and reliable 4 away from true title contention, the machination was sound if totally obvious.
It's not like Morey has always been the most subtle executive. His asset-collection strategy in the couple years leading up to the James Harden trade was about as blatant as you could get. The thought processes went, cobble up enough young players and picks and hope everything works out. Only in that scenario, Morey found his mark—Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who himself thought he was taking advantage of whatever leverage he had left with Harden.
Hell, Morey even took to Twitter to make light of the Asik situation Thursday night:
In his Harden plot, Morey had a sound backup plan. Houston's organization is filled with smart people, and owner Leslie Alexander has bought in fully to Morey's vision. Had a Harden deal never come up, the Rockets would have played out last season with their young players and hoped one hit.
Inertia seems to be the backup plan here, but that doesn't necessarily mean good things are coming.
While Asik is a valuable 7-footer and performed admirably as a starter last season, teams still have their (very valid) concerns. He's almost entirely a non-factor on offense. Even basics like catching a ball in traffic require effort, ball-handling and passing are issues and Asik is unlikely to suddenly become Marc Gasol at age 27. Only 12 percent of Asik's offensive possessions this season have been used on post-ups, with an overwhelming majority of his production coming via easy finishes from teammates or offensive rebounds, per Synergy Sports.
|Can An Elite Center Be This Bad Offensively?|
|Play Type||USG%||PPP||NBA Percentile||FG%||TO%|
There's also the question of Asik's contract. In pilfering Asik from the Chicago Bulls in restricted free agency, the Rockets agreed to a $15 million balloon payment for the 2014-15 season. While his contract counts for roughly $8.74 million per season against the cap, whichever team owns his rights next year will pay that sum out in cold, hard cash.
Opposing teams have rightfully viewed this as Morey trying to circumvent his own poison-pill deal by getting out of the costliest season. It's why Jeremy Lin, despite having a solid season, is almost untradeable. Asik won't nearly be as overpaid in his poison-pill year, but it's pretty apparent there's a "why should we pay for it?" attitude that's clouding negotiations.
And that also opens up the biggest can of worms: discerning Asik's true NBA value. Asik's calling card as a player is his size, plain and simple. He's an excellent purveyor of the verticality rule you hear so much about when folks are discussing Roy Hibbert. Per SportVU, opposing players are only shooting 43.2 percent at the rim when Asik is within five feet—exactly one percent worse than Hibbert, who is the runaway favorite for Defensive Player of the Year.
|NBA's Best Rim Protectors (min. 10 games played)|
|Rank||Player||BPG||Opp FGM at Rim per game||Opp FGA at Rim per game||Opp FG% at Rim|
We've gotten better at measuring rim protection, but we're still in our infancy of quantifying it to dollars and cents. Asik's teams have historically been far better with him on the floor defensively, but his lack of offensive versatility drags spacing down at the other end. What is that worth in today's NBA; $10-12 million per season?
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge spoke to Chris Forsberg of ESPN, and his quote illuminates the struggles most NBA executives go through when judging a big man:
I think it’s valuable. I think that everybody is looking for big guys that can defend. You’re also looking for big guys that can score in the post, big guys that can shoot and pass, versatile players. There are no perfect players out there, but there are good pieces on all teams. The NBA is loaded with quality players. Big guys are much harder to find than small guys.
None of these valuation problems are helped by the constant sourpuss Asik has fixed on his face. It was leaked almost from the second Dwight Howard signed with the Rockets that the Turkish big man wanted out. While I understand why Asik would want out—he deserves to start, and the Howard courtship was something he couldn't have foreseen in July 2012—he wasn't making Morey's job any easier.
Players who demand trades and do so publicly are inherently more difficult move. Because, again, leverage comes into play. So when Asik's second request for a trade in November became public, that was one strike. When Asik was essentially listed as "DNP - Pouting" for a game against New York, that was strike two. Morey puffing his chest out and making this Dec. 19 deadline has resulted in a massive whiff for the front-runner of the Executive of the Year Award.
That's why I'm skeptical that this stepping back from the table will work. Morey may think that hitting the pause button and fooling teams into thinking the Rockets might keep Asik will work. It won't. Teams know that the relationship has soured to the point of no return, and the Rockets will eventually cave and deal Asik by February.
What they'll receive in return is unclear. Offers may get better; they may get worse. In the meantime, everyone involved—especially Morey and Asik—will have plenty of time to wipe the copious amount of egg off their faces.
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