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8 Things We Learned From the Omer Asik Trade Saga

The Rockets have reportedly pushed back their self-imposed deadline on trading Omer Asik, and the Celtics still employ Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee. Was the news cycle of the past few days a total waste? Not quite. Here are eight relevant things we learned about the 2013-14 Celtics from this week’s biggest story.

1. Boston is neither committed to nor against tanking…and this year, that’s okay.

Most seasons, a team needs to be either all in or all out. Being unsure two months into the season is a perfect way to wind up with too many wins to acquire Jabari Parker and too few to make the playoffs.

This year? A team can pretty much do whatever it wants in the Atlantic Division. As long as the Celtics know where they want to be by the trade deadline, they can be in first place in the Atlantic Division while simultaneously be 4.5 games out of last.

So what did the Asik rumors tell us? Essentially, Danny Ainge has some flexibility in either direction. If a deal comes across his desk that’s just a little too good to pass up, he can make an offer with some solid trade assets. But if it doesn’t? He doesn’t have to panic or give away too much. There’s no reason to surrender anything more than he is comfortable with.

Lots of very smart people are saying the Celts are starting from a much better position with this rebuild than they did in the mid 2000s, and this flexibility is a big reason why.

2. Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee are very much on the trading block.

This isn’t a revelation, but confirmation of what we already knew. The Bass/Lee + a pick package is almost certainly going to be Danny’s go-to offer any time a somewhat attractive trade rears its head. And, frankly, it’s a pretty attractive package: Both players have player efficiency ratings slightly above 15 (league average), and both have clearly defined skills which could help a contender off the bench. They aren’t going to land a franchise-changing piece — Asik is probably the best player they could hope to get in exchange — but they are very available, and knowing Danny, he has to be aware that floating their names is a great way to let other teams know.

3. Danny Ainge talks to Brad Stevens, knows what the Celtics need.

This particular point also goes to show that Boston isn’t above throwing this season away. Ainge is well aware that Boston’s already solid defense could receive a nice bump with a rim protector and that Asik probably represents the difference between a lottery team and a low playoff seed (again, I’m operating under the assumption that given four more months, moderately healthy Brooklyn will be able to catch the Celtics). But Ainge isn’t about to hand away all of his assets in exchange for a low playoff seed. He’s willing to give Boston’s expendable, halfway decent trade package, nothing more. If that doesn’t get the deal done, he’s fine with piling up some losses.

4. Jeff Green might be available, but Boston values him more than Asik.

Early reports suggested that the deal might be Jeff Green + a pick for Asik. While Boston’s defense would have still gotten its bump, Green’s departure would have further limited an already very limited offense. Green’s inconsistencies aside, he’s a 40 percent 3-point shooter who can get to the rim, he’s one of Boston’s only isolation threats, and he could be the third-best player on a very good team. For that kind of role, $9 million per year really isn’t that bad.

5. Picks are hugely valued in the NBA.

The reported difference between Boston getting the biggest piece it needs at the moment and not getting it? One heavily protected 2014 pick. The Celtics certainly would have lottery protected their 2014 pick, and the Rockets probably would have said yes to Bass/Lee + the Brooklyn (or Atlanta) 2014 pick, which almost certainly won’t be in the lottery either. How likely is it that a non-lottery pick will become a more effective player than Asik? Not especially, but with the premium on draft picks in today’s NBA, Ainge wasn’t willing to take that chance.

6. Poison pill contracts are totally tradable.

At this point, it seems pretty evident that literally no deal is untouchable.

7. Never ever ever count on a deal between two smart GMs until the introductory press conference.

Daryl Morey and Danny Ainge are nightmare trade partners for reporters, writers and bloggers. Both are competitive, intelligent and leaky to the media like an old pipe. You will hear a hundred rumors from great reporters with excellent sources, but those sources are likely sent from Morey or Ainge in an attempt to drive up the price on their own assets. It’s a necessary game at this point, but it’s also annoying for those of us who are simply trying to parse through the rumors and get to the bottom of things.

And finally…

8. The Asik deal might not actually be dead.

Because, as previously mentioned, Morey and Ainge. As long as Ainge floats Bass and Lee and as long as Omer Asik is in a bad situation in Houston, it’s up to some other GM to top the deal.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

  • hax

    Nice article. Still on the Jeff Green hate bandwagon, though?
    The team runs no plays for him and when he isn't getting the ball, he is pulling away one or two key defenders, opening the floor for others.

  • Mark

    OT RE: #3… The more I watch the more I'm convinced the Celtics need Jabari Parker. I know Ainge loves the kid and I would love to see him in Celtics green, but I know it's a pipe dream. Everyone sees him as Melo but damn it if I don't see a more athletic Paul Pierce. Other skills aside, what pushes Parker closer to Pierce than Melo is his unselfishness, efficiency and willingness to let the game come to him.

    One can dream…

    • hax

      Parker seems to be playing his way to being the #1 overall pick next summer. Great season so far.

  • Mencius

    "The Bass/Lee + a pick package is almost certainly going to be Danny’s go-to offer any time a somewhat attractive trade rears its head."

    And the good thing about this 'go to' package is that it only gets more appealing as it ages. Next year, Bass will be an expiring, and Courtney will only have one additional year. So, what might look like bad contracts this year, will look way better next year.

  • tom

    I, for one am very happy this trade is not happening. Though Asik is a fine defensive center, he's not a complete center or he wouldn't have been replaced by Howard to begin with. Asik wasn't willing to be a non starter (not a Celtic mentality) and if we got him we'd find ourselves in the same position as Houston is now when a complete center became available. Getting that complete center would become more difficult with less trade pieces – picks and players.- and though Asik might win us a few more games his ceiling keeps us out of the lottery and stuck in the middle of the pack. I'd rather watch Bass and Lee who will only get better without demanding the star attention. Wait for a better trade or throw all the picks at a potential franchise player in the draft. We are better positioned without him and we've already done better in the past with less to give away. – After all, Howard was a free agent, you never know what might come up.

    • roadsidenotes

      How many "complete centers" are there in the NBA right now, and how many of *those* are available at a price that would not bankrupt the Celtics either in terms of talent or salaries (remember that tax paying teams cannot offer a full MLE anymore)?

      And you do not need a 'complete' center to win a title in the NBA. Over the last decade, only Shaq and, if you squint a bit and stretch the definition, Tyson Chandler have won titles. Otherwise teams have won with centers that were liabilities on one end of the floor or another or were power forwards playing out of position.

  • tom

    roadsidenotes- You make excellent points.
    The biggest problem I have with Asik is his 'me first' attitude. Is he good enough to justify that? Do we want that in the team mix? My instinct says he's a liability. If we wind up acquiring Asik down the road, I will console myself with your comments and hope I was wrong.

  • skeeds

    I'd say that especially after the Rockets tested the waters and weren't offered a blockbuster deal, the potential of them eventually reaching an agreement is even higher. Right now they just had to back up because if they're not getting what they want in return, there's no reason to rush. Makes sense.

    Asik is a good enough center to be a difference maker, even a huge difference maker. More than offensively gifted centers, aggressive defenders that defend the pick and roll perfectly, (and Asik definitely is maybe one of the few that do exactly that), are extremely effective. With the exception of a handful of players who can get their own on iso, and the 2, maybe 3 good post scorers playing in the NBA right now, everything else is pick n' roll basketball. You cannot underestimate the value of a rim protector who a) gets it, (because in a hypothetical parallel universe mcGee and Deandre Jordan would be the best p&r defenders), and b) actually is mobile enough to keep up with the play.