To Seek Asik or Not to Seek Asik?

Rumors are swirling around Boston, Philadelphia and Houston.  Omer Asik (ah-SHEEK) and his lane-clogging abilities are up for sale.  The Boston Celtics have assets, in the form of Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, and as many first round picks as the eye can see. Daryl Morey likes assets and desperately needs a power forward who hit an open jump shot.  Daryl Morey also likes operating ahead of the curve, which is why he has given the other 29 NBA teams a deadline by which Asik will be traded.

What does Morey want? Preferably a stretch four who can also defend reasonably well.  Brandon Bass meets those qualifications. In fact, he exceeds them.  Bass defends most power forwards and many small forwards exceptionally well.  His one-on-one defense against Carmelo Anthony in the first round of last year’s playoffs made Anthony look like Rudy Gay.  Jeff Green’s name has been thrown around, but Danny Ainge knows better. Like more and more NBA teams these days, the Celtics don’t have a center.  They have an assortment of small forwards and power forwards.  More importantly, the Celtics don’t have a legitimate nuisance in the lane.  On the other hand, Asik is essentially a useless offensive player.  He is adequate at rolling to the hoop, and occasionally dunking the ball. This current version of the Celtics is playing solid defense, and is beating mediocre NBA competition (although the defense has not been tested by the better offenses in the NBA, yet).  The deal currently swirling in the ether involves Bass, Lee, and a first round pick for Asik.


Under contract

Brandon Bass: through 2014-15, $6.9 million

Courtney Lee: through 2015-16, $5.4 million in 14-15, $5.6 million in 15-16

Omer Asik: through 2014-15, $15 million (but only $8.4 million towards the salary cap–Morey’s sleuth contract maneuver). How much is Asik worth?  That is the $8.4 million-dollar question, that even Zach Lowe can’t sufficiently answer.


Potential contract extensions

Avery Bradley: will need a new deal starting in the summer of 2015.

Jordan Crawford: will need a new deal starting in the summer of 2015.

Moving Lee off the books in 2015 will help enable Ainge to extend Bradley and Crawford.


The Questions


Who is Omer Asik?

He came to the Bulls in 2010 after playing in his native Turkey from 2005-2010.  Under the tutelage of defensive wizard Tom Thibodeau and the uber-physical Joakim Noah, Asik became an unheralded reserve force.  Daryl Morey noticed and gave Asik a very smart, back-loaded contract.  He was a deal.  Last year, Asik provided exactly what Morey hoped.  A defensive presence and a ton of rebounds (11.7 in only 30 mpg).  When Morey secured Dwight Howard, Asik became expendable.  When it became obvious Asik felt demoralized by his future prospects with Howard (he’ll be a free-agent after 2014-15), he wanted out.  One interesting tidbit: Asik was only 6 feet tall at age 17.  He grew eight inches in one summer.  This seems impossible, but it has been reported, so it must be fact.

Does Asik make the Celtics better this year?

Yes.  Despite his inability to shoot, Asik gives them a legitimate defensive force (protecting the rim and rebounding on both ends) which will allow the optimistic C’s fans to dream about the potential of a five-man-group involving Asik-Sullinger-Green-Bradley-Rondo and turns the Celtics into something of a potential playoff contender in the Leastern Conference. This assumes a few uncertainties will happen: 1) Sullinger and Bradley continue to show their development throughout the year; 2) Rondo is able to return at something resembling full strength by April; 3) Asik and Rondo are able to integrate themselves into Stevens’ system smoothly; and 4) The rest of the Leastern Conference teams not named Indiana and Miami will remain questionable.

My guess is that Sullinger will have some struggles against the better defensive big men who he has yet to face.  Bradley’s mid-range game seems legitimate, but might be hampered by Rondo’s return (Crawford has turned into a serious 3-point threat, whereas Rondo is not).  Rondo will probably be eased back in (no back-to-backs) and may not be at full-strength or may not be completely confident in his new knee by March/April.  Asik and Rondo are smart enough to figure out their roles on defense. The Leastern Conference will see Atlanta, Brooklyn, Detroit, Washington and New York (if Chandler returns to full health) all improve and gain cohesion as the season progresses.  With all of these things in mind, and the number of prospects that will be available in the June draft…

Should the Celtics be looking to make the playoffs this year?

I don’t know.  In October, I was convinced that the long-term plan meant to build through this draft.  It’s so easy to fast-forward into the prospect possibilities.  Imagine the 2016-17 Celtics with then 22 year-old Joel Embiid (Kansas) doing his best Hakeem impression or then 23 year-old Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky) running the floor and blocking shots like Philadelphia hopes a healthy Nerlens Noel might. Compare those possibilities with a potentially costly 30 year-old Omer Asik.  The thing about looking too far ahead is that you lose sight of all the uncertainties and unknowns.  Will Rajon Rondo age well?  He’ll turn 30 in February, 2016.  Will Sullinger’s back problems be a distant memory or a painful reminder of the risk that came with drafting him in the first place?  The unknowns are many.  The certainties are few.  What we know: Brad Stevens will be the coach.

There is a balance between the present and the future.  In valuing the present tense and the consistent winning atmosphere that may arise with this young core, adding Asik may be more important.  There will certainly be other big men with potential that arise out of nowhere.  Andre Drummond, profiled excellently by Jonathan Abrams, was labeled a bust after his one year at UConn, but is now likely to become a fixture in Detroit’s paint for the next ten years. One aspect that I return to: free-agents do not generally choose Boston.  Building through the draft and trades is Ainge’s best bet.  There are enough analytics-oriented teams that need a paint-clogger that the market for Asik in the summer of 2015 will be competitive.  The history of 7-footers not aging well in the NBA is daunting.  It would certainly be fun to see that Celtics win a playoff series this year, but could they really hope to contend with Indiana or Miami with such a limited offense?  Nope.

Would they be looking at Asik as a 2-month rental (flip him to a contender at the deadline), a 16-month rental (let it play out) or would they hope to re-sign him?

This is an interesting question.  Would other contending teams be more likely to trade for Asik after two months of a motivated and defensively dominant big man?  Maybe.  Portland may be getting more serious about its hope to battle the Spurs, Thunder, Rockets, Clippers and Warriors in the fight for home court in the West.  The question of whether or not to re-sign him in 2015 is dependent on more of those uncertainties.

How much is Asik worth?

Enough for us to consider all of these questions.  Enough for me to get NBA League Pass immediately and start watching every minute of every Celtics game again.  But not enough to guarantee anything.

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