Got me thinking about the Omer Asik conversations from a couple of weeks ago. Is it really that unreasonable to think the Blazers could land Asik? Seems to me that there is a logical path that could end up with Asik in Portland.
Step 1. Howard leaves LA. The Lakers are a mess. With Kobe's injury, Gasol's contract, Nash's age, the Team's cap situation, and following a horrible first year experience, why would Howard choose to stay? As the article above states, the money advantage that the Lakers have is really not that much of an advantage. At the end of the day, if Howard chooses to leave, the Lakers should fall in line and do a sign-and-trade to try and recoop some of the assets they threw away to get Howard and Nash.
Step 2. Howard chooses Houston. Also made clear in the article, Houston probably has the best money situation, combined with an existing, budding superstar in Harden, complimentary players, and assets to offer in a sign and trade. Brooklyn has signigicant money issues, Dallas offers only an aging Dirk, Atlanta does not have an existing superstar. Chicago, New Yourk, Golden State? It seems like other suitors have obstacles, while Houston is sitting there nearly perfectly situated to offer Howard the money and championship contending team that he desires.
Step 3. Understanding Asik's contract. After failing to land Howard last summer, the Rockets filled their center position by offering a 3 year, $25 million contract to Omer Asik. The offer was back end loaded - $5 million in year 1, $5.2 million in year 2, and $14.9 million in year 3, in order to discourage Chicago from matching the offer. It worked. For the Rockets' salary cap purposes, Asik's contract is averaged so that the salary cap each year is $8.375 million. However, if the Rockets were to trade Asik, the salary cap exposure to the new team would be his actual salary - $5.2 million next season, and a whopping $14.9 million in 2014.
It appears that Houston would need to clear about $4 or $5 million in salary to be able to offer Howard a max contract and Asik would be the logical choice to trade in order to clear the space. They are not going to want $8 million in cap space rapped up in a backup center playing 10 minutes a game, and they certainly wouldn't mind getting away from the $15 million dollar price tag and potential luxury tax hit that would occur in 2014. Similarly, why would the Lakers want Asik in a sign-and-trade? Would they want to play Asik next to Gasol? Does it make sense for the Lakers to add that salary/luxury tax hit in 2014? Without Howard, it seems that the Lakers might be due for a blowup and a repositioning to attract their next superstar .... Lebron?
Step 4. Houston is aggressive. Steps 1,2 and 3 represents a timing problem for the Rockets. Free agency and Howard's decision will occur after the draft, but the draft is the best opportunity for the Rockets to find trading partners to shed the needed salary to attract Howard, while at the same time picking up the assets they might desire to better position themselves for a sign-and-trade, or to simply make their team better. Is Houston aggressive enough to make this move prior to Howard's decision? History says they are.
Last year, the Rockets made or proposed several trades in an effort to assemble as many draft picks as possible to dangle in front of Orlando. It was an all out effort and demonstrated their willingness and desire to land Howard. They could play it safer this year, but trading partners are not easy to find - especially with Asik's contract. Can they afford to wait and potentially lose trading partners as those teams move in other directions in the draft and through free agency?
Step 5. Portland is the perfect landing spot for Asik. Asik demonstrated in 2013 that he is a good NBA center. He is a good defender and rebounder, and takes up a lot of space in the paint. Certainly any team with a need at center would be interested. However, how many teams are going to want to absorb the $15 million in cap space and/or potential luxury tax hit in 2014? Enter the Blazers.
Portland is in the position this offseason of needing to use up their cap space. They demonstrated this season a core of four players that they could build around - an all star power forward in Aldridge, a potential future all star point guard in Lillard, and two wings that are adequate defenders and can knock down an outside shot in Batum and Matthews. The only hole for the Blazers starting linup is a rebounding, defending, space eating center. The problem the Blazers have is that most center solutions, either through trade or free agency will eat up most of their cap space. McGee - $11 million, Jordan - $11 million, Okafor $14 million, Pekovic or Splitter - $9 to $10 million and the risk of a potential match by their existing teams. Enter Asik.
Fitting Asik's $5.2 million contract into this summer's salary cap leaves the Blazers with another $8 million to spend on their second pressing need - depth. The Blazers could make a play for a Reddick, Mayo or Allen. They could split the money and add two viable bench contributors. Asik simply gives the Blazers the best opportunity to fill their center position need while also giving them the opportunity to sove their bench problems.
And which team in the NBA is probably the least bit worried about a one-time luxury tax hit in 2014? The Blazers and ...... Paul Allen.
Conclussion: Houston is very well positioned to land Dwight Howard, and with Asik's position, skills and unique contract situation, the Blazers are very well positioned to help the Rockets make it happen.