After setting a public deadline and in the process squandering any possible negotiating leverage, the Rockets have reportedly opted to the pump the brakes on a potential deal for reserve center Omer Asik.
The now-"injured" big man has made his displeasure with his current situation widely known over the last month, beginning with a publicly reiterated trade request when he was removed from Houston's starting lineup. It seems, though, that the Rockets have removed any immediate pressure to accommodate that request, and will instead play the market between now and the trade deadline to find the best deal possible, per reports from ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports. Originally, Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported that the Rockets were planning to move Asik by Dec. 19, as to reserve the right to flip any acquired pieces before the actual NBA trade deadline passed on Feb. 20. Yet in making that known, Houston did itself no favors; several teams were reportedly engaged in talks with the Rockets at some point, but none seemed willing to provide a trade package that met Houston's standards.
Instead, Houston rolls on, having reportedly disengaged in their active push to trade Asik. In addition to the strange dynamic of the Rockets' self-imposed (and now seemingly irrelevant) trade deadline, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that potential Asik suitors are concerned about the center's salary inflation in the 2014-15 season. While Asik will only count against the salary cap for some $8.4 million next year, he'll actually be paid $15 million through a quirk of contracting. It was that very jump in salary that helped Houston to poach Asik away from Chicago in 2012, and now it may well stand in the way of the Rockets procuring an acceptable deal for a somewhat redundant asset.
Asik is an exceptional interior defender, though Dwight Howard's arrival has made his presence less necessary and more difficult to manage. After the Rockets' early season struggles with their pairing, it's quite clear that Howard and Asik do not make for an optimal on-court fit. Yet Asik is too good and too valuable to be used so sparingly, while now too frustrated to be fully committed to the team. Last week Asik dismissed his former agent, Andy Miller, in favor of Arn Tellem -- a move seemingly made to help resolve the current predicament.
Moving Asik makes the most sense for Houston, and in setting this Dec. 19 deadline the Rockets aimed to complete a deal on their own terms. The closest they came, it seems, was in a proposed trade with the Celtics that would have only landed Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee, and a future first-round pick in exchange for Asik. Houston apparently (and understandably) thinks it can do better, and will play out the next few months to see what offers emerge for one of the best defensive bigs in the league. Morey clearly still thinks quite highly of Asik as a player, though, to the point that a rival GM told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com earlier this month that the Rockets' asking price for Asik was "delusional." Fair description or not, it's now clear that Morey was not willing to compromise his valuation of Asik for the sake of his own deadline. Two full months remain before Houston would be forced to make a final decision for the season.