As was pointed out earlier this morning in an insightful piece by our own Hayes Davenport, news that the Boston Celtics may be involved in the Omer Asik sweepstakes is interesting, cool, concerning, and irrational. As some of you know, I’ve covered the Houston Rockets over at Red94 for the past three seasons, and have watched every minute Asik’s spent in the middle over there.
I thought he was the second or third best defensive player in the league last season: a wrecking ball guarding the pick-and-roll, a barbed wire fence at the rim, and an elite rebounder on both ends of the floor. He’s such a good player. Before Dwight Howard took his spot in the starting lineup, Asik was a wonderful fit in Houston’s blistering pace-and-space system. He set monster screens (for James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, etc.) both on the ball and away from it, and was actually quite effective rolling to the basket in the pick-and-roll.
Unfortunately, all is not well with Asik’s game on the offensive end. His hands often mutate into bricks when the ball comes anywhere near them, which is a problem. And in terms of shear tragedy, his post-game is more or less comparable to “Marley and Me.” But surround Asik with a bunch of shooters and a point guard who can feed him the ball near the rim and you’ll be onto something.
Now, let’s pretend Stein’s report is precise and a deal is on the horizon. Onto the questions you’re interested in having answered. How does Asik help this and next year’s Celtics? What would it mean if Boston actually acquired him? How would it affect their reconstruction? And what’s fair to ship outbound in exchange for a big man who, as Hayes pointed out, will hit the market in 2016 at the age of 29, looking for a three to four year deal that could cost somewhere between $36 and $50 million (using Andrew Bogut’s recent extension as a helpful benchmark).
First things first, the Celtics are already a top-10 defense without a single legitimate source of rim protection. That’s insane, and Asik would only make the team better. Getting into specifics, the Eastern Conference has a few centers who positively impact the offensive end—Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Andre Drummond, and Andrew Bynum (that last name was a bad joke; please keep reading and accept my dearest apology)—as well as a batch of guards and wings who make their name attacking the rim. Asik helps there.
He would turn the crater in Boston’s frontcourt into a stable foundation, allowing Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk to play power forward, their natural position. (The Celtics would be a monstrosity on the glass with units featuring Sullinger and Asik, especially.) And pairing him with a point guard like Rajon Rondo, who can finish plays with brilliant dump off passes and easy-to-handle lobs on the pick-and-roll, would be great. Rondo makes teammates better on the offensive end, and Asik could greatly use the assistance.
All this is well and true, but is it worth it? Should the Celtics want to get better right now? Despite a solid start to what most believed would be The Season From Hell, it remains very early in the year, and Danny Ainge would still be wise to cash out well before he even thinks about going all in.
In terms of what Boston would be willing to surrender in a deal, any draft pick from 2014 should be off limits unless what’s coming back is a hopeful prospect who’s early on his rookie scale contract. (For example, Harrison Barnes). Asik is not that player.
If the Celtics are willing to move a future first-round pick—say, the unprotected 2015 first-rounder they received from the Los Angeles Clippers for Doc Rivers—along with Brandon Bass and Vitor Faverani, then things become a bit more acceptable, but still not ideal. And given the upcoming player option he likely opts out of in two years, moving Jeff Green for anything that doesn’t make Boston better down the road wouldn’t be wise.
Asik is wonderful. A fantastic piece who’d fit in well with Boston’s players, coaches, and system. But thanks to financial particulars, it’s almost impossible to justify his acquisition as a positive stand alone transaction. The timing just isn’t right. And in the NBA, timing can be everything.
Michael Pina has bylines at Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth, and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.