If Mavs Aren't In On Asik, Why Not?
Omer Asik: disgruntled center, a much-ballyhooed reputation as a defensive plus, on the NBA trade block. Dallas Mavericks: a team weak at center, and where such a center makes sense. Expected trade date: no later than December 19. Yet as the Rockets' self-imposed trade deadline approaches, the Mavs are getting little-to-no mention as a potential destination amid all the speculation. Is this a sign that the Mavs are sitting this one out, or are they in their characteristic hush-hush mode when talking trade?
Here's what we know, with a closer look at how Asik fits (or doesn't) in Dallas.
To this point, the conversations between DallasBasketball.com and our Mavs sources haven't offered even a whiff of Mavs' interest in Asik. Indeed, on Nov. 16, we reported that Dallas has not had a conversation with Houston on the subject. So there's that. Combined with the fact that neither the local beat writers nor the well-connected Marc Stein have heard any whispers of Dallas-Houston talks, we are led to conclude that the Mavs simply aren't in the mix. (If we hear otherwise at the last minute, we'll keep you posted.)
Why? Ah, a good question, and one worth exploring.
THE DRAFT PICK
The simple answer for Dallas lack of involvement is that the Mavs don't have the right assets. Houston has been determined to at least get some sort of future No. 1 pick in the deal, and because the Mavs have a protected pick owed to OKC, they simply don't have one to offer under the rules. And it's hard to imagine a practical side trade for Dallas to get that pick for Houston.
But lacking a pick might not be the whole story, because even though the Rockets want one in return, it's not a certainty that teams that have one will offer one for Asik. The word from Philly, long rumored to be Houston's fallback partner, is that the Sixers have no willingness to give up a pick. Atlanta has been rumored as a prime suitor, but it is thought that they are too dollar-conscious to be willing both to absorb Asik's giant raise to $15 million a salary in 2014-15 plus the loss of the bargain that comes from a draft pick. Cleveland is thought to be more of a possible facilitator, rather than a source of a pick.
Boston, with a storehouse of extra picks, is the obvious place for the Rockets to try to get one, but because they are against the tax line, the Celtics have to send away more salary than they get in any trade. That limits the options to Rajon Rondo (presumably way too much value for Asik), Jeff Green (a key player the C's want to keep), Gerald Wallace (marginal player with a nasty contract), or Kris Humphries (expiring $12 million deal). With those choices, it's possible Boston would require the Rockets take (or find a taker for) Gerald Wallace if they want a pick.
We believe the wildcard for Houston is probably Charlotte – they have an apparent interest and the Rockets could get lucky if the Hornets again blunder into one of their incredibly bad trades.
But with that as the backdrop, it's far from certain that Houston will be landing a pick from anyone.
THE PLAYER(S) TO SEND TO HOUSTON
If getting a pick is impractical, the Rockets want to at least get back a player or two they can use. And if it comes to that, it would seem that the Mavs might be able to make an appealing offer – if they want to.
It's been rumored that the Rockets want a center to back up Dwight Howard. The Mavs probably have a somewhat-ideal solution, with Samuel Dalembert being a bonafide center, on a very modest contract, without a negative attitude over currently being benched (instead having an attitude of trying to get better), and having had a good prior stint as a starter in Houston. It's also rumored that the Rockets hope for a bit of help at PG – and the Mavs have two youngsters (Mekel and Larkin) that might be of interest. The Rockets don't want to take back a pile of nasty salary, and Dallas could add Wayne Ellington, the kind of backup Houston prefers with a modest contract, who can play defense and make 3s when called on.
Would a package of Dalembert, Ellington, and Mekel (or Larkin) work for the Rockets? What about if the Mavs replaced the PG in that package with Boston's second-round pick? Or just added it?
Is that the return Houston said they wanted? Nope, not even close. But it remains to be seen if there are any glittering alternatives. What if the Rox are only getting offered a highly protected pick down the road from Boston but it's tied to the bloated deal of Gerald Wallace, or Thad Young with his huge contract, so-so play, and no pick, and other offers of that ilk?
BUT IS DALLAS INTERESTED?
On first glance, it would seem that Dallas would eagerly try to trade for Asik, if they had the assets to offer. Dirk Nowitzki(able to make a difference on offense), paired with a center (or two) who can make a difference on defense, is their formula that won a title, and since Tyson Chandler left in free agency the next season, they've had a hole at the position.
But while Asik is a defensive plus, there are things that he's not. A significant part of what TY brought to the table was his ability to play above the rim, combined with a take-no-prisoners chippiness that the Mavs had been lacking. That's not Asik at all, who is a product of the Euro League where centers play below the rim and flop rather than posture. Nor is he a brute who will intimidate.
What about the fact that he raised a stink over being a backup in Houston? Given that history, plus the size of his contract, Carlisle would have to be committed to playing him, but we don't see that as being an issue in light of the way he has used Calderon and Ellis this season. And Asik has a reputation as being a player who competes when he plays, which would make such a commitment easy to keep.
A bigger issue standing in the way of the Mavs, if Asik were available to them, is that they have become a team that tries to prioritize team chemistry and cohesiveness. In-season trades cause problems in those areas and set the team back, so during the season the Mavs have become a team that tends to make very small tweaks rather than big moves. It's been almost four years since the last big Mavs in-season trade, the blockbuster deal in February 2010 that sent Josh Howard and others to Washington for Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler, and Dwight Stevenson.
And that was a deadline deal. Not a mid-December deal.
Some have speculated that Dallas isn't involved because Houston won't trade with Dallas … or because Houston GM Daryl Morey and Dallas owner Mark Cuban don't like each other … but that's not a real issue. Houston beat writer Jonathan Feigen, highly knowledgeable about the Rockets' thinking here, said explicitly that Houston is looking for the best return on Asik, regardless of conference.
And we know for a fact there are plenty of connections in the Mavs organization who visit with plenty of connections in the Houston organization. So that theory is a non-starter.
If Dallas had the most helpful offer, Houston would take it.
IF THE MAVS DON'T CHASE ASIK, THEN WHAT?
One hidden factor colors the thinking for the Mavs moving forward: they believe they still have upside on this team that they haven't seen yet.
While Brandan Wright was a bright spot in his return Saturday, his presence changed some of the potential for other players as well. While he was missing, coach Carlisle had to play Marion more minutes at PF (where he's not as good, because he's undersized) because of the absence of Wright, which then meant he had to slide Vince Carter into more minutes at SF (where he's not as good, because he's undersized) rather than at SG. The return of Wright means that not only does the team get the benefit of his play, but Marion and Carter should also get better with a rotation able to play more to their strengths.
The same will be true with Harris' eventual return. Right now, Monte Ellis plays more minutes at PG (where he's not as good) and raw rookies Larkin and Mekel are relied on regularly – all of which gets instantly improved with a healthy Harris.
That's not to say that the addition of Asik, if the price is right, wouldn't help. But with a 14-10 record so far and help already waiting in the wings, the Dallas Mavericks are not going to be chasing every deal. Whether they have a surprise in store on Asik, we should learn soon.
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