The single biggest name on the NBA trade market (at least publicly) is Houston Rockets center Omer Asik. For the non-diehard fans, Asik is currently the “backup” center to Dwight Howard in Houston, making him utterly expendable despite the fact that he is an above-average center in a league that doesn’t have many above-average centers.
Before you scream about why we’re discussing the Rockets center on an Atlanta sports blog, there is a reason, as Asik has been named in multiple rumors involving the Hawks and two of their valuable pieces. The most highly-discussed rumor centers around Hawks power forward Paul Millsap, as the Rockets have been thought to be targeting Millsap as their “ideal” candidate for an Asik move.
For starters, the salaries are a near perfect match, as Asik’s salary cap number (we’ll come back to this) sits at $8.3 million per season for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, while Millsap is owed $9.5 million per year in both of those campaigns. This would basically be a straight-up trade (at least it appears that way) if it were to happen, with the Hawks presumably shifting Al Horford to his “natural” position of power forward and slotting Asik alongside him.
The second scenario would involve some combination of Lou Williams (and his pristine contract) and cap filler in exchange for Asik. To be fair, this one hasn’t been peddled much by the national media, but several local outlets have mentioned Williams as a piece to the deal, and it does make some sense. Williams signed a 3-year, $15.675 million contract with the Hawks prior to the 2012-2013 season, and he is making between 5 and 5.5 million dollars per season over the same length as Asik and Millsap.
Okay. Now that we know the particulars of the rumor, it’s time to place some “analysis” on the festivities, and for me, it’s pretty simple.
The Hawks should say “no thanks” to either possibility.
First, the narrative that the Hawks are in desperate need of a center is overblown for me. There are only a (small) handful of match-ups where Al Horford is physically over-matched against a “dominant” NBA center, and shifting the entire roster composition to fit those few face-offs would be shortsighted in my view. There is certainly a full post in itself concerning whether Horford is better at the 4 or 5 positions (I think he’s better at center, FWIW), but we won’t dive too deep here.
As far as the actual specifics of each trade possibility, I would counsel Danny Ferry against both for different reasons. A Asik-for-Millsap swap does make all kinds of salary cap sense, but Asik is actually owed more money than Millsap due to his “poison pill” provision that pays him $15 million next season (something that Hawks ownership certainly wouldn’t enjoy, despite the relatively low cap number).
Add to that the fact that Paul Millsap is simply a much better basketball player than Asik (Asik is an elite defender, but is a trainwreck offensively, as evidenced by his efficiency numbers), and because of the fact that Asik has openly pouted this season, Millsap also owns the better pure “trade value” on the open market. We could get deep into the numbers here (Millsap leads strongly in PER, Win Shares, etc.), but when the biggest argument is a positional change for Al Horford, it’s time to say no.
On the Williams front, the decision is certainly a closer one for me. Any longtime reader of mine would know that I’m firmly in the tank for Lou, but he hasn’t quite been the efficiency monster in Atlanta that he was in Philadelphia, and his status as a combo guard on a team with a budding star (we hope) at the point guard position and a 2013 1st-round pick in the backcourt is a bit turbulent. Still, Williams is the best shooting guard on the roster if you think Kyle Korver is “really” a small forward (I do), and he presents a different dynamic than any bench option on the team in terms of shot creation.
Asik for Williams would be an intriguing swap for the Hawks if all things were equal but, again, they are not. Asik is owed $20 million in real money and nearly $17 in cap hits for this year and next year, and Williams makes just about half of that in real dollars and about $6 million less against the cap. The Williams signing that brought him “home” to Atlanta was a vast underpayment in my view, and it serves as a big-time bargain in a league filled with ugly contracts for players in the mid-level tier that Williams occupies. Throw in the fact that the Hawks would have to add in more pieces (or picks, etc.) and leave themselves with a giant offensive void on the perimeter, and a deal centered around Lou falls off the table for me.
To be fair, I should certainly include the fact that I would love to see Omer Asik in a Hawks uniform. He’s one of the best rebounders in the entire NBA when he’s got it going (career 13.1 rebounds per 36 minutes), and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a legitimate 7-footer to protect the rim. With that said, Asik isn’t the perfect fit that some would believe, and because of the fact that the Hawks would have to either part with Millsap (alone) or Williams (with additional parts), it’s time to sit this one out.