The Houston Rockets receive a first round pick from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Ömer Aşık. The pick protection reported by Brian Windhorst is that Houston receives the pick if it falls anywhere from 4th to 19th. Subsequent year protection is unknown at present.
The trade for New Orleans
Aşık is a very good player and a true difference-maker on the defensive end. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, he has two huge downsides that make the trade incredibly short sighted: Aşık only has one year left before becoming an Unrestricted Free Agent and his contract calls for a substantially higher salary in the final year than his cap number.
The first fact substantially worsens the trade for New Orleans because they have no meaningful advantages to keep him beyond this season, making Aşık a rental. Beyond the small benefits in percentage raises (not a big financial difference on a non-max contract) and a fifth year the Pelicans should never offer, the best retention tool New Orleans has at their disposal is a successful season. Considering the fact that many teams are looking to clear their books for 2015 and some teams are not going to get the top targets, it stands to reason that Aşık will get overpaid on his next contract anyway.
With that combination of factors, it makes sense to evaluate the Aşık acquisition as a one year investment. He certainly makes New Orleans better for the 2014-15 season but the timing makes little sense because of how strong the top of the Western Conference will be. New Orleans finished 12th in the conference and I fully expect most if not all of those teams to be good enough to make the 50-win mark a reasonable line to even make the playoffs. In fact, the Rockets themselves likely are using this transaction to set up adding a major piece. Even if New Orleans has their dream scenario, they land somewhere in the 5-8 range in the West and likely get some positive attention and two playoff home games. Is that really worth giving up another first round pick?
That is where the balloon payment comes in. By having a cap number of $8.37 million and actually getting paid $14.9 million, the market for Aşık narrows substantially. We saw at the trade deadline that many owners simply have little interest in that kind of financial outlay and that was with at least some of the cheaper part of his contract. A thinner market means that there were less teams competing for the Rockets' center. Even then, the Pelicans gave up a likely lottery pick for one season plus zero team control of a player who will help them win but not likely enough to make any long-term difference for the franchise.
The crazy thing is that I really like the fit of Aşık on the Pelicans for this one glorious season. He can play with either Anthony Davis or Ryan Anderson and can provide the team a defensive identity even with some flawed defenders on the team. Rim protectors are pivotal in today’s NBA and there are not many better than Aşık. Unfortunately, the timing and cost of acquiring him make it the second straight year the Pelicans sacrificed future assets in an attempt to contend before they are ready for prime time.
Grade for New Orleans: D
The trade for Houston
While Daryl Morey may have asked for the moon for Aşık in February, he got a pretty solid return for him in June with even less leverage. We can expect New Orleans to be good enough to avoid the 1-3 part of the pick protection but out of the playoffs, meaning the Rockets likely picked up a late lottery pick for one year of a player they were seemingly inevitably going to lose anyway.
Despite the fact that I will continue to think that a Dwight Howard / Ömer Aşık pairing at the two big man positions could have worked dangerously well for stretches, the Rockets now have the pieces in place to make one last major upgrade and enhance their core. Since Aşık is owed so much money this season in actual dollars, I would have been surprised if one of the teams with a desirable free agent would have been happy taking him in a sign-and-trade. Since both Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James would require their current team’s active involvement to acquire without cap space, that becomes a relevant consideration in terms of whether Houston would need to create cap space to bring in the final piece. As such, moving Aşık was fundamental to those hopes even though it appears no agreement with a bigger fish is clearly in the offing.
Not having Aşık this season absolutely weakens the Rockets some, especially if Dwight Howard misses time due to injury. Even if his sole value came as a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” big (which it did not), Ömer had plenty of usefulness to a Houston team gunning for a top seed in a stacked conference in a race with zero room for an extended stumble. That said, if the choice had to be made between him and any of the Rockets’ other expensive non-Lin pieces, it makes complete sense. While Morey did not get two picks for his hyped trade piece, I would rather have a pick in the late lottery than two deep firsts, especially with an owner potentially willing to spend to acquire a pick in the twenties anyway.
Trading Aşık now clears one major hurdle that would have gotten higher a week from now as teams use up their cap space on other players through free agency (particularly with his balloon payment) and getting a likely late lottery pick for it makes the move even better.
Grade for Houston: A-