Asik Will Measure Bulls' Financial Commitment To Winning
Across the NBA, there has always been a price to pay to win, a premium that comes with contention. As finances are placed under heavy examination, organizations enter each offseason with a game plan, an idea of whether the team is worth it to spend a little extra by surpassing the salary cap. Over the past few years, the Chicago Bulls’ hierarchy, headed by chairman Jerry Reisndorf, has made clear that it will delve into the luxury tax for a championship contending team – essentially, get to the upper-echelon, and then spending some more will be taken into consideration. After all of the talk and promises, Omer Asik will now put the Bulls’ winning standards to the grueling, uncertain financial test.
Already fretting team payroll in coming seasons, the Bulls will have to decide whether to match a three-year, $25 million Asik has agreed upon with the Rockets. The reported deal calls for Asik to earn $5 million in each of the first two years before making approximately $15 million in the third. As much as the Bulls knew competition would run deep in the for Asik given the always insane market for serviceable centers, they had to be at least a bit surprised he received such a backloaded offer sheet.
Valued around the league for his defense, toughness and experience, Asik has been one of Chicago’s most desired commodities. Teams, specifically the Rockets, have inquired about the second-year big man during the past two campaigns, and yet, the Bulls have held firm in keeping him. The Bulls have the best regular season record during that span and Asik has been the defensive anchor of one of the best benches in the NBA.
Most importantly, Asik meshes perfectly with Tom Thibodeau’s schemes on defense. His defensive principles are probably the most precise in the league, which are combined with remarkable force. When the offensive player charges at him near the rim, Asik, more often than not, contorts both his arms straight up – eliminating the possibility of the opponent drawing a blocking foul. Despite playing just 14.7 minutes per game a season ago, he averaged 5.5 rebounds and one block.
Nevertheless, the offensive end is where Asik has been immensely challenged. The Bulls understood he was far from polished when he left Turkey for Chicago in 2010, but they believed he would improve in his second year. They thrust Asik into the full-time backup center role this past season due to the departure of Kurt Thomas, but his shooting percentages regressed across the board and his hands usually continued to fail whenever teammates would dart a pass to him. Asik went from a 50 percent free throw shooter to a 45 percent one, and his field-goal percentage dropped by nearly five percentage points (55.3 percent to 50.6 percent.)
Yes, as treasured as Asik is by the Bulls and as admired as he is around the league, should Chicago really match the Rockets’ lucrative proposal for a backup center who has poor hands, shoots sub-50 percent from the free throw line and has literally knocked down one basket outside the paint in his career?
It is even more difficult to justify throwing that much money at the seven-footer given the fact that the Bulls have invested long-term in Joakim Noah, who has four years and $48 million left on his own deal. As long as Noah stays with the Bulls – which all signs point to, barring an unforeseen circumstance where Dwight Howard changes his preferred destination to Chicago – Asik would remain his backup.
Asik’s repertoire is easy to fall in love with – he plays his heart out with a motor to the brink of empty, and he does so controlled and strictly – but for a Bulls team that admittedly has other roster holes to fill, shelling out about $8.3 million annually to a reserve would be tough to do, and a choice that could very well be smart to bypass.
For their part, the Bulls on Monday morning were coy and did not reveal whether they would match Asik’s offer. General manager Gar Forman told reporters that the club will not make an official ruling until it sees a formal sheet has been agreed upon between Asik and the Rockets, meaning that the Bulls plan to push their final decision until or beyond July 11 when the NBA’s free agent moratorium ends.
“I’ve seen reports of an offer, but we haven’t seen anything [official] yet as of this time,” Forman told the assembled media during draft pick Marquis Teague’s introductory press conference. “I don’t want to speculate until we actually see something. I think we’ve made it clear that we value Omer and it has been our goal that Omer would stay with the Chicago Bulls.”
Truth be told, so much of the Bulls’ psyche changed when Derrick Rose tore his ACL in late April. Aside from the clear drop in their title aspirations, the Bulls began to put much more of an emphasis in the franchise’s financial state. The case could absolutely be made that bringing back Asik would be a no-brainer had Rose stayed healthy and had the Bulls stayed the course to maintain their progress in the playoffs. However, Rose is down now, and the Bulls are in a bind as well, both in the winning and economic frame of mind.
Re-signing Asik or not, the Bulls also have other issues to worry about.
With Rose slated to miss a significant chunk of next season and C.J. Watson’s team option likely to be declined, Chicago has already honed in on searching for a starting-caliber point guard.
If the Bulls choose not to bring back Kyle Korver, they will be in the market for a low-salary shooter to fill his place.
Considering the interest level that has been shown in Asik, the Bulls would also be wise to attempt to sign Taj Gibson to a contract extension this summer, as the power forward has one more year remaining on his current deal before he is scheduled for restricted free agency.
Add all those up, and Chicago indeed has other priorities to tend to and it would receive some flexibility should it elect not to match Asik’s offer sheet.
Still, winning comes with a price and it’s awfully daunting to be in a successful position in this league if some realm of financial freedom is not available. The Bulls are a better team with Asik on the roster, and Forman said last week that the organization will make basketball decisions, not financial ones. Yet, Forman – who has said for weeks that he and his brass will look at the offseason “with the long-term in mind” – followed that statement by alluding to the fact that economics will play a role in potential moves. Asik will surely test the Bulls’ dedication toward winning, and the decision to match his offer sheet is clearly a financial one.