BOSTON (CBS) — Trade season is upon us.
Dec. 15 is the first day in the NBA season when the trade winds really start to blow. It’s the first day that teams can trade any free agents they signed during the past offseason.
These added pieces to the trade pool create a multitude of different scenarios for most NBA teams, including the Boston Celtics. Danny Ainge has assembled a collection of overachieving veterans under promising head coach Brad Stevens that has led the Green to the top of the dismal Atlantic Division 25 games into the season.
Although the Celtics are a first-place team right now, make no mistake — they are still one of the worst division leaders in NBA history with their 11-14 record. Stevens’ does have this group continually improving though, and with the looming return of Rajon Rondo sometime next month, a new question has arisen about Ainge’s moves in the coming weeks: Instead of being sellers at the trade deadline, could the Celtics be buyers?
The recent ESPN report that confirmed the Celtics’ interest in acquiring Rockets’ big man Omer Asik lends credence to the belief that Ainge could be a buyer. Asik has been unhappy in Houston ever since the team signed Dwight Howard this offseason. Due to this, Rockets GM Daryl Morey appears determined to trade him by sometime next week.
With the clock running, it’s time to ask the question: does it make sense for the Celtics to acquire Asik? Let’s run through some possibilities to find an answer.
Asik is signed through the 2014-15 season. His contract is a little tricky though. He’s earning just $5.2 million this season, but that number balloons to $14.9 million next season due to a poison pill provision the Rockets put in his contract to help sign him away from the Bulls in 2012. Asik’s salary cap hit (which is what matters for trade purposes) is $8.37 million for both this season and next season. That’s a manageable number for any trade, but the salary he’s actually receiving next year will be a lot for any team to swallow.
The Rockets are reportedly looking for a power forward with range, first round picks, and/or defensive help in exchange for Asik. The Celtics can provide assistance in all three of those departments, making this trade a realistic possibility.
Why It Could Make Sense For Boston
Rim protectors are hard to come by in today’s NBA, but Asik is one player who certainly fits that description. He’s a seven-footer, is on the verge of entering his prime at age 27, and is a tremendous rebounder on both ends of the floor.
Stevens has done a great job producing a nearly top-10 NBA defense with no true interior presence. Landing Asik would shore up that department for the Celtics and potentially create a promising front line of Asik and Sullinger for years to come in Boston.
The Celtics also have a surplus at power forward, a place of need for the Rockets. Ainge would be selling high on Brandon Bass or Jeff Green in a potential deal, and the team also has plenty of first-round picks at their disposal, so they wouldn’t be mortgaging their future by sacrificing one for Asik.
Why It Could Make Sense For Houston
Asik needs to be moved, since he’s never going to be happy in Houston and this team wants to be a contender right now. They need more help on their bench. They also want to avoid dealing him to the Western Conference (especially to a good team) so shipping him East is preferable.
The Celtics have an assortment of players with playoff experience, and many of those guys have reasonable contracts situations, too. Bass and Green are both signed through next season, making them good, but not great, values.
Each player has his own set of strengths, but they match up to what the Rockets could use help with. Green provides 3-point range on the perimeter, as well as strong wing defense and effective transition offense. Bass has played well next to Howard earlier in his career in Orlando and has made tremendous strides in his game this year. He’s a great pick-and-pop fit with James Harden, can play in the post and defends well against a variety of positions. Either player could be a strong fit with Houston.
Why It Might Not Make Sense For Boston
There’s a lot to unpack here. Although Asik would be a big help to the frontline, he’s also due to demand another big contract in free agency after the 2014-15 season. Do the Celtics want to sacrifice assets and pay him big money as one of the major pieces of their rebuild? It’s not a slam dunk.
Additionally, Asik has his flaws. He’s not a skilled offensive player, has no real jump shot, and struggles mightily at the free throw line. Losing Bass or Green for him would make Boston’s offense worse, and that’s a worry on a team lacking shot creators.
Then, there’s the whole tanking thing. Asik makes your team better now … does Ainge want to do that at this point? Does he want this group to be a playoff team this year, or does he plan on clearing this deal out and dealing away veterans for more assets? No one knows right now, but a move from Asik would be a step away from that direction.
I guess it all depends on the price, in my estimation. There’s plenty of promise in Asik, and his pros outweigh his cons, especially for the long-term. Trading away a first-round pick and Green or Bass is a deal worth making. If the price is higher than that though, I’d be inclined to think twice on it. Both Bass and Green are key members of the Celtics and potentially could be a big part of the future as well. Ainge should be in no rush to move either if you can get serious value. Still, it’s tough to turn down the prospect of acquiring a legitimate big man for the future.
The bottom line though is these trade talks make sense on both sides. Keep your eye on this situation in the coming days.