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Rockets still have leverage in Omer Asik standoff

Just because the Rockets didn't deal Omer Asik before their self-imposed deadline of last week doesn't mean all is lost. Here's why the pressure of an actual deadline will be to Houston's benefit.

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For all that posturing, Houston did not trade Omer Asik. Despite much proclamation including from here that the Rockets were determined to trade their backup center before a self-imposed Dec. 19 deadline. They did not, nor did they ever appear to come especially close. Asik remains with the team, continuing in an awkward limbo-like situation that all parties would like changed because it benefits none of them.

It could, however, be a lot worse.

Houston has every reason to want to deal Asik. As good as he is and he really is Dwight Howard is significantly better, and the two cannot play alongside each other. Both are pure centers in a league where you do not even really need one pure center, let alone two, and an Asik/Howard frontcourt pairing could not work for reasons of spacing alone. Moreover, it need not now be forced to work, because the power forward hole no longer exists. Terrence Jones has rightfully won the spot with quality play and has nullified the need to find a power forward by trade (and probably killing my own Asik-and-Jones-for-Serge Ibaka trade idea along the way).

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Asik is thus reduced to a limited role as Howard's backup, a role rarely affording more than 12 minutes a night. Yet for this role, he is responsible for a cap hit worth $8.3 million. Next season, he is to be paid almost $15 million in salary for what will be no bigger of a role. This redundancy and expense, combined with Asik's own dissatisfaction with the situation, has made for a strong need for the Rockets to deal.

Unfortunately, everyone else knows it, too. Asik's value was proven by this round of talks to be fairly low for the same reasons Houston wants to move him, as well as Houston's strong desire to have him traded by this somewhat arbitrary date far in advance of the actual trade deadline. Particularly, the upcoming $15 million price tag has proven to be an obstacle. This was reflected in the offers received for him: The best reported offer of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a low first round pick from Boston would merely give Houston two expensive backups offering little above replacement value to the Rockets.

Dealing Asik when his value is this low, and not reflective of his true abilities as a player, would have made for either a bad deal or no deal at all. The Rockets opted for the latter hoping they can turn around the former.

In theory, they can. A healthy, happy, starting Omer Asik is a defensive wall of a center who merits both a starting job and a quality trade package. An increasingly oft-levied argument that Houston remained a fairly poor defensive unit last season even with Asik playing most of the time is one that deliberately ignores his abilities by highlighting the flaws of others. Asik is a prodigious rebounder and a terrific defender of the paint who contests almost everything and who does so without fouling. He also can pass the ball fairly well, though, given that he cannot consistently make any shot other than the two handed dunk, he does not handle the ball enough to make this skill worth all that much. Were his value to be at its peak, Asik would have extremely high trade value. But of course, circumstances have affected this.

So now, after no deal has been made, where does this go? Asik has to stay with a team he doesn't want to be on, in a role that he doesn't want to fill, a role that further belies his abilities. None of this is conducive to a player increasing his value, and trading a player when he is greatly removed from his peak value is a proposition fraught with danger. (See also: Tyson Chandler for P.J. Brown and J.R. Smith.)

However, by waiting until later, there is a factor no longer in play: Houston's self-imposed trade deadline is now passed. Perhaps it was that, more than anything, that submarined his trade value. No one else was working to the deadline that Houston was, and thus no other team felt the pressure to make a deal the Rockets they did. When teams feel pressure to make a deal, be it through a desperate need to acquire a certain player, the pressure of competition from rival bidders, or merely the pressure imposed by a deadline, they are more willing to close on one. Subsequently, the offers improve.

It is plausible, therefore, that any further decline in Asik's play and value that comes with returning him to his unsatisfactory role will be offset by the actual NBA trade deadline helping stimulate demand for a deal. Indeed, it may even increase his value. A further benefit may be that in keeping Asik in this role, Greg Smith is kept out of the rotation; he direct by-product of this may be that Smith, a proven NBA rotation-caliber player and thoroughly capable potential backup to Howard himself, is to get scant little playing time (and thus opportunity to build up his value) in the months approaching his restricted free agency. Keeping Asik down keeps Smith even further down, and while one of these situations is bad, the other is far better for Houston. The Rockets control Smith's future via this restricted free agency. It behooves them if he is not needed so much now.

The Rockets still yield a fair bit of leverage in this scenario.

Moreover, what must not be forgotten is that despite the specifics of his situation, Asik is the type of player who could help any team he is on while being available and desirable to all of them. Rare are players so useful so readily available. The drawback is the $15 million price tag, yet this is something the Rockets can offset by including cash of their own in the deal. At that point, Asik would effectively cost closer to $12 million, a more reasonable price for a center who can average a double double if given the minutes.

Despite this being a far from ideal situation, the Rockets still yield a fair bit of leverage in this scenario. After all, it is they who have the excess starting-caliber big man. With their own self-induced headache out of the way and silly season just around the corner, there could yet be a satisfactory resolution for all parties.

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