There are rumblings around the inner circles of the NBA that the Houston Rockets will accept the best offer available for 7-foot center Omer Asik on or before Thursday, December 19th. Marc Stein recently reported that the Boston Celtics are a team that could jump in and deal for him, with a package featuring Brandon Bass and a first round pick.
In the event of a trade, Boston would be "buying" when everyone thought they'd be selling" before the season. But with a 12-14 record, the Celtics have been one of the most surprising teams in the NBA, so Danny Ainge might want to do what he can to make this team as competitive as it can be.
All reports indicate that Jeff Green is not an option in this potential deal. So, for the sake of this article, I am going to focus exclusively on the Bass scenario.
With that said, would it be worth it if Bass were traded to Houston along with a first round pick? Does Asik improve the Celtics that much this season? Or next season? Let's take a look at the pros and cons of trading for Omer Asik.
Pro: Asik would dramatically improve the defense
If Celtics fans thought Kendrick Perkins was great defensively -- which he was -- then they would love Omer Asik, who is far superior.
Asik is a 7-foot-tall center that does everything you will ever want out of a defender. He doesn't block many shots, but he denies ball penetration when he's put into the pick-and-roll, and he doesn't allow his opponent to establish low post positioning.
Last season, Asik was an integral part of Houston's success, playing in all 82 games, averaging a hair over 30 minutes per game. When Asik was on the floor, the Rockets allowed only 103.95 points per 100 possessions. But when he was off the floor, that number ballooned up to 111.86 points.
That's an absurd difference of 8 points, supporting the belief that Asik is one of the elite defenders of the NBA. But you might be asking, "Well, when Asik was off the floor, more often than not, the rest of the starting unit would be too, so the numbers are skewed."
But that isn't the case. In fact, the numbers are more staggering if Houston's starting core was on the floor sans Asik. So, when Harden and Parsons were both always on the floor, and Asik was either on or off, check out these numbers:
|Points Per 100 Possessions
|On the Floor
|Off the Floor
Again, the numbers show that Asik is an impact defender whenever he's playing. With the starting core still on the floor, but Asik off, the Rockets allowed almost 10 more points per 100 possessions. These numbers are jaw dropping, and once again signal that he is undeniably one of the best defenders in the NBA.
It hasn't even been mentioned that Asik is also one of the best rebounders in the league. Last year, Asik averaged 14 rebounds per 36 minutes, which ranked him second behind Reggie Evans of the Nets.
This season, because of SportVU player tracking, we know that Asik ranks near the top of the league at grabbing contested rebounds, with 46.1 percent. For the sake of comparison, here are Asik's numbers this season compared to a handful of some of the league's best rebounders.
|Rebounds Per 36 Minutes
|Contested Rebounds Per Game
|Contested Rebound Percentage
The column you really want to be looking at is the fourth one, as I believe contested rebounds secured provides a glimpse into how competitive a player is when fighting for a ball. After all, grabbing a rebound with no one around you doesn't hold the same value as one with an opponent nearby.
I would be curious to see what the statistics would show if they were available for the 2012/13 season, but they are not. In any case, the numbers once again prove that Asik is one of the best defenders and rebounders in the NBA.
But if Asik were acquired, it would mean the Celtics lose one of their own best defenders in Brandon Bass. So, who would start at power forward? Would Jared Sullinger, who seems to be getting better each night, move to the four? I don't think so, because his body is still built to play center defensively, and he could get exposed on the perimeter this season.
How about Kelly Olynyk? Well, he can't really defend anyone right now; he's young and needs time to refine his skills.
That leaves Kris Humphries, who I believe would be the best choice to start if Bass were traded. Humphries isn't as good of a man-to-man defender as Bass, but he's a better rebounder, which, in my opinion, makes up for any difference in defensive skills.
Humphries averages 11 rebounds per 36 minutes over the course of his career, compared to only 7.6 for Bass. Even though rebounding isn't usually included into discussions about defense, it should be; a possession isn't concluded until a shot is made or a rebound is secured, anyway.
So, despite potentially losing Bass, I believe that a combination of Omer Asik and any of the other big men on the roster would still drastically improve the defense.
Con: The offense would be limited
While Omer Asik is an extraordinary defender, he is only an ordinary offensive player. The Turkish center came to the NBA as a rookie in 2010 with a limited skillset on offense, and he has improved only marginally since then.
The statistics don't look too bad, considering Asik had a commendable 55.8 true shot percentage (which includes all shots including free throws). The problem is that he's not very efficient unless he's scoring directly at the rim. Here is his shot chart on attempts in the paint from the 2012/13 season:
As you can see, Asik averaged a respectable 57.6 percent on shots taken at the rim, but only 28.1 percent everywhere else in the paint. Because of his lack of effective post moves, he tends to force shots that lack touch.
On the bright side, Asik realizes that he's limited as a scorer, and therefore opts to pass unless he's able to attempt a shot right at the rim. The fact is, out of 614 total shots taken last season, he attempted 86.1 percent of them at the rim.
Asik clearly knows his role, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't limit what the offense can do. In his four-year career, he has attempted only 37 shots outside of 8 feet despite being one of the best screen-setting big men in the league. Granted he has hit 16 of those attempts, he doesn't seem like a guy that can be relied upon to shoot, otherwise the Rockets and Bulls would more often utilize him in the pick-and-pop.
The loss of Brandon Bass would mean that the Celtics would be without one of the best mid-range jump shooting power forwards in the NBA, but I wouldn't go as far to say that the offense would suffer, they would only change and be more limited.
At the big positions, the Celtics would still have some respectable scorers. For one, Jared Sullinger is obviously in the process of taking his game to the next level, and can score from both inside and outside. Secondly, both Kris Humphries and Kelly Olynyk would get a more of an opportunity to shoot the ball.
Humphries is shooting a respectable 42.2 percent from mid-range this season after working all summer to improve his shot. Even though he's no Bass, he is beginning to prove that he can hit a jumper. And while Olynyk has been terrible shooting the ball outside, there's a chance he could begin to find success from mid-range, just like he did at Gonzaga, where he was one of the best shooting big men in the NCAA.
Pro: Asik would help the Celtics in the future
As nice as it is to have a guy like Brandon Bass on the team right now, does he really have a future with the Celtics? With young players like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk developing, it's only a matter of time before Bass is known as the older guy taking playing time away from the young kids. (You could argue that's the case already.)
With Bass gone, that would open the door for someone like Olynyk to receive more playing time to develop his skills. Sullinger would be able to make the shift to power forward next season, which is a much better fit for him considering his lack of height. Think about how incredible the Celtics could be defensively if Sullinger spends the summer improving his body, much the way Kevin Love has done over the years for the Timberwolves.
Not only that, but even though the Eastern Conference is weak this season, it still has some of the best centers in the NBA. With the likes of Roy Hibbert, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Brook Lopez, and Joakim Noah, having Omer Asik would give the Celtics an equalizer inside.
Asik would do for the Celtics is what Perkins used to do when defending Dwight Howard in the playoffs. With the rise of big men in the East, having a relatively young defensive stopper in Asik could help win a playoff series in the future.
Con: The chemistry could be disturbed
I have heard that Brandon Bass has been a leader for some of his teammates this season, especially Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, and Jeff Green. Of course, Bass isn't a leader in the "KG is preparing you for war" sense, but he has been an integral part of establishing team continuity. As a result, this has helped along first-year head coach Brad Stevens.
Trading Bass could significantly disturb the chemistry, which would be Coach Stevens' first real test in terms of managing an angered locker room. This, of course, is all hypothetical, since every player could simply understand it's a business. But it's worth a thought that trading a "glue guy" like Bass could set the team back in the chemistry department, for at least a while.
What about Asik's "poison pill" contract?
Nothing is simple in the NBA when it comes to money, but I'll try to make this easy to understand: Omer Asik's salary cap hit for next season is $8.37 million. However, when he went to Houston, he signed a "poison pill" contract, which back loaded his contract. In reality, Asik will have to be paid $14.89 million next season. But does this matter when it comes to salary cap and tax purposes?
To my knowledge, the answer is no.
The Celtics wouldn't soar into the luxury tax next season because of the actual payment. As salary cap expert Larry Coon says, "Don't think of it as paying [Asik] $7 million extra. Think of him as a $15 million center with a cap hit of an $8 million player."
With the luxury tax, the salary cap hit is all that matters. So, even though Asik will be paid almost $15 million next season, he only counts as $8 million towards the cap, and therefore the luxury tax. That means the Celtics wouldn't have to worry about the luxury tax unless they made another deal that put them over the limit.
My Verdict: I'd do it in a heartbeat
If Brandon Bass is the centerpiece in a trade to Houston, I am all for it. The question is, what more would Houston want? Of course, a first round pick would have to be included, probably from the 2014 or 2015 Draft. I would not consider this much of a loss since the Celtics have nine first round picks over the next five years anyway.
But another player would have to be added to make the salaries work. Some candidates, from most to least appealing, include: Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Courtney Lee, or Jordan Crawford.
Bogans and Brooks would be easy to deal because they don't have much value at all, so it's unlikely Houston would want them either. Trading Crawford would be most difficult since he's only 25-years-old and is Boston's backup point guard once Rajon Rondo returns.
I think Courtney Lee would work out for both teams. Lee, who had much success with the Rockets in 2010 and 2011, would fit right in as a "3-and-D" player. For the Celtics, Bradley is the starting two-guard, and a combination of Bogans, Crawford, and even Green, could be used when he's on the bench.
If a deal for Omer Asik is made, I believe the pros heavily outweigh the cons. It's difficult to find a big man that can defend the paint as well as he does, and he could arguably turn the Boston Celtics into contenders in the Eastern Conference as early as next season.