Trade-Talk Exclusive With Morey & Donnie
Under Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson, the Dallas Mavericks have a robust reputation for wheeling and dealing at the deadline. But just as notable is what GM Daryl Morey has done since taking over the Rockets in 2007:
In all but one season since, Houston has engineered a trade-deadline deal. Six deadlines. Five deals.
"I think a lot of that was about putting down the foundation that led to us getting James Harden and then Dwight Howard,'' Morey tells me. "Once those things are in place, it makes us far less likely to do another deal this time around.''
And yet the Rockets are very close to real contention because of those two players ... and there sits center Omer Asik, having spent most of the season in mothballs asking to be dealt.
I am told Houston remains open to dealing their disgruntled center, just as was the case when Morey announced an artificial deadline of Dec. 20.
"Teams were not aggressive enough in trying to get him,'' Morey says. "Hey, we think he's a top-five defensive center in the NBA. So I don't know why is going to bang down the doors, but we think of him very highly.''
Sources tell me that there are factions inside the Houston organization that prefer to retain Asik as Howard's backup. Logically, that might include coach Kevin McHale, who is in the final year of his deal (with a team option for next season). It certainly doesn't behoove McHale to "try to build for the future'' and such.
But the reason Morey is able to say he expects Asik to remain in Houston is Morey's asking price. Sources tell DB.com that the Rockets are trying to hit a "Harden homerun''; that is to say, working to give a solid package for a super package.
That's why Morey stresses Asik being "a top-five defensive center in the NBA.'' And it's why Dallas can knock on that door but cannot bang it down.
"We're certainly going to be aggressive, like always, in pursuit of getting better,'' Donnie tells me. "We think we have a good team that can be even better.''
The way to make it better immediately is via the trade deadline, and I mention to Nelson my theory that waiting on a summer courtship is inferior to attempting to create a marriage at the deadline.
"One thing that helps us a great deal is Mark's willingness to do whatever it takes,'' Donnie says. "There's no resource he won't use, no dollar he won't spend, no stone he won't have us turning over. It's one of the best assets we have, to have Mark in the position he's in.''
Is Donnie's remark about Cuban's "dollars and spending'' to be taken as a clue regarding Asik's "$15-million balloon payment'' next season? Again, it is against the rules for Nelson to be specific about another team's player, so the conversation doesn't go there with me. ... and besides, Donnie is just as prepared to repeat by rote, "We Love Our Boys In Blue,'' and we know how that remark is to be taken.
But I think the conversation goes there between Nelson and Morey. Betting against this or any other deadline deal occurring is smart money, and despite the reputations and relationships here, that remains true. But I believe we now know that if Asik remains in Houston beyond the deadline, it will be due to Dallas being unable to meet the Rockets' price, not due to Dallas being unwilling meet Asik's.
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