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Grading The Deal: Pelicans Trade For Ömer Aşık

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-

Troy Daniels Rewards Rockets, Proves Detractors Wrong With Game-Winner In Game 3

In the middle of training camp in October, Troy Daniels listened to the Charlotte Bobcats’ front office inform him of his release. He was a prolific shooter at Virginia Commonwealth, a positive soul and a hard worker, and here was the Bobcats’ reasoning for cutting the undrafted Daniels: Too short, a point guard-shooting guard tweener.

For a night, Daniels justified his standing, draining three 3-pointers and the game-winning three-pointer in the Houston Rockets’ 121-116 win over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3 on Friday night. This was Houston’s season – a 3-0 series deficit staring them all the way into an offseason filled with regret and questions surrounding coaches and players.

Everyone understood the shooting prowess in Daniels, but no one plucked him out of the NBA Development League like the Rockets in February. They signed him to a non-guaranteed contract through 2015-16, an investment to reward his play with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, whom Daniels remained with in agreement with Houston after it also released him before this season.

Two months later, Daryl Morey’s acquisition paid dividends in the most ultimate way. Daniels isn’t a pure point guard and steady defender yet, but that’s why Houston has Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley.

By releasing Ronnie Brewer to create roster space for Daniels, perhaps the Rockets feared some franchise was bound to beat them to the deadeye shooter. He was their own, too, helping implement a transformative playing style in the D-League, with an emphasis on launching three-pointers because, well, they’re worth more than two.

In the end, the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic closely monitored Daniels and had interest in him before his deal with the Rockets, leagues sources told RealGM. And yet, these Rockets were the recipients of Daniels’ 3-of-6 shooting from three-point range, honoring his four collegiate seasons and commitment to the Summer League and D-League route to the NBA.

“It’s a dream come true,” Daniels said at the interview podium after Friday's game.

The Rockets have utilized Rio Grande Valley for serious roster development and invest in the minor-league franchise to grow players for the main organization. They sell players on the Vipers’ system, the environment they’ve created with coaches.

Daniels averaged 21.5 points and made five three-pointers while attempting 12.5 with Rio Grande Valley, and this is exactly why Kevin McHale turned to the 22-year-old rookie in Game 3: his shooting is special. The Rockets had been reeling through Games 1 and 2, receiving poor performances from James Harden and the bench, but Harden went for 37 points and Lin and Daniels combined for 22 critical points on Friday.

The Trail Blazers kept coming back, and Damian Lillard was brilliant and took advantage of mismatches. They forced overtime despite trailing by double digits early in the fourth quarter, but LaMarcus Aldridge missed all three shot attempts after regulation. For the Rockets, the Blazers’ frontcourt allows them to use Dwight Howard and Omer Asik together, big men able to provide length on Aldridge.

Suddenly in overtime, Lin probed the lane out of desperation and a scramble situation, when he found a streaking Daniels wide open and aired the ball out to the 6-foot-4 guard. Without hesitation, with Aldridge closing out, Daniels rose, fired his smooth jumper and rattled in the go-ahead shot with 11 seconds left.

One by one, they all mobbed him, Harden and Chandler Parsons, Josh Powell and Beverley. The Rockets were on the brink of an upset to a younger, more inexperienced team, on the brink of a 3-0 hole, and Daniels revived the season and restored their promise in this series.

“A couple weeks ago, [Daniels] was in the D-League,” Harden told reporters. “He saved our season.”

It’s simply one jumper, people will say, but clutch shots in the postseason have enhanced careers and padded résumés in the past, and they’ll continue to.

An inch too short, Daniels had heard in training camp. For him, Friday was all part of his goals. This was his job. Other teams paid close attention as Daniels’ three-point totals flourished in the D-League, but no one made the signing. Season on the line in Game 3, and the Houston Rockets found their hero: Troy Daniels.

RealGM's Playoff Predictions

Here are the playoffs predictions from eight of RealGM's writers.

Christopher Reina (@CR_Reina)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Raptors, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Thunder

Finals Winner: Thunder

The wear and tear of reaching The Finals in each season since the formation of the Big 3 will finally catch up with the Heat against the Thunder. Kevin Durant and LeBron James will be as brilliant as expected in this series, but it will come down to how healthy and effective Russell Westbrook is compared to Dwyane Wade, along with how stubborn Scott Brooks is with his rotations. With superstars potentially moving around again this offseason, this could be the last best shot for Oklahoma City.

Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Raptors, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat. Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Thunder

Finals Winner: Thunder

Unseating the two-time reigning champions is difficult, but Oklahoma City has the likely MVP and a motivation that still permeates from its defeat in The Finals last season. The Heat's health also could be put into jeopardy this late into a fourth straight run to the championship series.

Jonathan Tjarks (@JonathanTjarks)

First Round Winners: Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Pacers, Heat, Raptors, Bulls

Second Round Winners: Spurs, Thunder, Pacers, Heat

Conference Finals: Thunder, Heat

Finals Winner: Heat

Miami still has the best player in the world and they've done a much better job of managing Wade's minutes in the regular season. Watch out for Greg Oden and Michael Beasley - I could see both playing a huge role at certain points in the playoffs. 

Daniel Leroux (@DannyLeroux)

First Round Winners: Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Pacers, Heat, Nets, Bulls

Second Round Winners: Spurs, Clippers, Pacers, Heat 

Conference Finals Winners: Spurs, Heat 

Finals Winner: Heat

This year is challenging because I feel the Spurs are the best team, but Miami has the twin benefits of being more likely to make the Finals due to a weaker conference and having the best player in the world will of course prove valuable should they make it. Health will be a major factor and it would make sense for it to hit the Heat due to their age but that does not trump their other advantages in my mind.

Andrew Perna (@Andrew_Perna)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Heat, Spurs, Blazers, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Thunder

Finals Winner: Thunder

Durant will best LeBron as the league’s MVP and deal another blow by preventing the Heat from three-peating in June. Oklahoma City will have two of the best three players in the Finals, which will be the determining factor even if Miami has three of the top five.

Sam Yip (@SamYip_NBA)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Spurs

Finals Winner: Spurs

Although Miami has been on top of the basketball world for two straight seasons, San Antonio's roster along with their improved bench will likely dethrone the defending champions. The Spurs were one Tim Duncan layup away from winning their first title since 2007 last season. The new 2-2-1-1-1 Finals format will give the Spurs an edge with their home court advantage.

Benjamin Cantor (@BenCantor_NBA)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Nets, Bulls, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Spurs

Finals Winner: Spurs

Although the Thunder have given the Spurs trouble in the past, Popovich always seems to have a way to adjust to opponents who have beaten him in the past. Last year, many people thought the Grizzlies might give the Spurs trouble because of what happened in 2011, but Pop and the Spurs clearly showed they knew what adjustments to make when they swept Memphis in the conference finals. I think San Antonio's defense against Miami in last year's finals was outstanding and this year they'll have home court advantage in the finals. 

Dan Friederg (@danfriedberg)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Thunder, Heat

Finals Winner: Thunder

With LeBron and KD both at the peak of their powers, the role players will make the difference. Caron Butler, Jeremy Lamb, and an improving Reggie Jackson will tip the scales over an aging Ray Allen, a fragile and unproven Greg Oden, and an empty space where Mike Miller used to be. Durant will hoist his first championship trophy to go with his first MVP award, and the world shall rejoice.

D-12 & LMA: Previewing Rockets Vs. Blazers

The difference between the way in which Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge were successful in taking advantage of single coverage was the reason for the Rockets dominance over the Blazers in the regular season. If that trend continues and the defenses don’t make the necessary adjustments in the playoffs, the Rockets should move on to the second round.

Dwight Howard Has Rockets Looking Like Title Contenders

No one was winning a title with Dwight Howard’s supporting cast in either Orlando or Los Angeles. He’s in a better situation with the Rockets, with a shrewd front office and a talented young core around him.

The Western Conference At The Deadline

The Western Conference is highly competitive this season, but that didn't carry over to a deadline in which Steve Blake was the most important acquisition after the Rockets were unable to cash in their Omer Asik chip.

30 Rapid-Fire Questions For Each Team's Front Office

The following 30 questions are the biggest issues facing each NBA front office as the 13-14 regular season begins.

The Anti-Tank

The Rockets acquired all of their assets without “tanking,” as they never finished below 9th in the conference. By constantly acquiring/retaining valuable assets, Daryl Morey avoided the risky paths of relying on a rookie to become a franchise player or relying on a superstar free agent signing despite not having a superstar teammate to play with.

30-Team Offseason Rundown

Great drafts for the Rockets, 76ers, Nets, Warriors, Hawks and Grizzlies headline this complete rundown of the 2013 offseason.

Star By Star

If the owners want to make it harder for superstars to switch teams, they have to increase the financial incentives for them to stay. Otherwise, franchises with one All-Star will forever be looking over their shoulder. To paraphrase Sean Parker, having two stars isn’t cool. Having three is.

2013 NBA Offseason Primer

With the 2013 NBA offseason underway, here is a primer on what all 30 teams are facing.

Leroux's 2013 NBA Draft Review

Breaking down all 30 teams by category of how they fared in the often surprising, never disappointing 2013 NBA Draft.

False Positives In Scouting For The NBA Draft

For all they told us, Thomas Robinson's college stats might as well have been his high school ones. Even the most advanced statistics depend on the underlying data and the data coming out of college is fairly flawed.

Options Aplenty For Rockets

In the sea of organizations dealing with the NBA's new rules and fitting them in with their financial and personnel constraints, the Rockets stand out as being the most interestingly situated heading forward.

2013 NBA Amnesty Primer

One fun component of the Amnesty rule is that we know exactly which players are eligible for it and that number can only decrease over time since the players had to have been under contract with the same team before the new CBA.

How Many Players Teams Acquire At Each Trade Deadline On Average

The Kings, Knicks, Rockets, Thunder and Cavaliers have been the most active teams at the deadline over the past decade, while the Spurs, Pistons, Heat, Lakers and Pacers have made the fewest deals.

What James Harden Needs

James Harden may be the best shooting guard in the NBA within the next two seasons, but as Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant's careers have shown, he’ll still need a lot of help to make the Rockets a legitimate championship contender.

Leroux's 2012-13 NBA Tier Predcitions

While the drop-off from the Heat to the rest of the Eastern Conference is severe, the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder have quick company in the second and third tiers.

Jeremy Lin Ready To Move Past 'Linsanity'

Jeremy Lin won't be distracted by the enormous amount of attention he's sure to get. Nobody knows how good Lin really is, but there is a feeling that his popularity, not his game, is the biggest reason the Rockets gave him a three-year, $25.1 million dollar contract.

Leroux's 30-Team Offseason Review

The Nuggets, Lakers, Heat, 76ers and Nets were amongst the teams with great offseasons, while the Bucks, Magic, Suns, Knicks, Cavaliers and Bulls were in the bad column. Here's how all 30 teams have fared in the 2012 offseason.

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