For nearly a month, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has made his way around NBA showrooms and talked about deals. By his self-imposed Thursday deadline, he will be ready to buy.
Morey would not discuss his plans, but a person with knowledge of the Rockets’ thinking said Morey set his December 19 deadline in part because he knows he has an offer he is willing to take. Though things can change several times by Thursday, that individual said “it very likely will be a pretty complicated, three-way deal. There are a lot of moving parts.”
Ideally, the Rockets hoped to pick up a player who can quickly step into the rotation and, one way or another, have the impact they hoped Asik would have. Less desirable but more likely, Morey would have to put together a package of players or picks for Asik, knowing that the mixed grill option is usually not as valuable as getting one stronger player, especially for a team now built to contend quickly.
With the emergence of Terrence Jones as the starting power forward, Morey is not determined to find a starter at the position. He hopes to come away with either a strong defensive wing who can catch-and-shoot, a power forward who can fill in as a backup center, or expiring contracts that come with first-round picks - or some combination of those assets.
Morey told teams he would make a deal by December 19, the cutoff for acquiring players who can be traded again this season. But he also created urgency like a trade deadline and has never let a deadline pass without a deal, including last season when he was certain that nothing would materialize.
As much as speculation has centered around Thad Young, if the Rockets are to do a deal with Philadelphia and former Rockets assistant GM Sam Hinkie, it is more likely to be a three-team deal in which the player the Sixers trade goes elsewhere.
The Rockets likely would want draft picks in a deal, and Hinkie is not expected to give those up. If the deal was for Young, the Rockets and Sixers would not have had to wait until Dec. 15. And if the Rockets were to try to get one of the Sixers players who don’t fit in Hinkie’s long-term plans, it would be more likely for Spencer Hawes, a range shooter who could play next to Dwight Howard or as his backup with Asik gone.
The increase in Asik’s salary next season, to more than $15 million, has not been a hindrance in most talks, though teams are more motivated to make a move sooner than later to have the greatest benefit from Asik’s relatively small salary this season before it jumps three-fold next season.
Asik’s salary would count as roughly $8.37 million each of the two seasons remaining on his contract for the Rockets or any team that acquires him. Though some teams might balk at paying Asik more than $15 million next season, a team that considers Asik a $10 million center would benefit from having a reduced cap hit next season.
The challenge would be finding that team, with Asik best-suited to a team ready to win now, rather than rebuilding, and with many teams more interested in their draft position than their record.
The greatest certainty in a situation filled with uncertainty is that the Rockets no longer believe they can convince Asik to be patient, at least until the Feb. 21 trade deadline. Talks in the days that followed Asik’s trade request ended that hope, with Morey choosing instead to look to deal beginning Sunday.
Celtics forwards Jeff Green and Brandon Bass are also mentioned by Marc Stein as potential trade chips. Despite the fact that Houston would love to get their hands on either of the two, it wouldn’t make sense for Boston to simultaneously trade away two starters, while also making the decidedly “win-now” move of acquiring Asik. This would be the NBA equivalent of acquiring Roy Halladay and trading away Cliff Lee in the same transaction.
Close to returning from his thigh injury, Asik could be ready to play this week. By Thursday, he will know where that will be.