BOSTON (CBS) – An innocent moment Wednesday night at the TD Garden ended up being a bit of foreshadowing of trade negotiations between the Celtics and Rockets, as I spotted a Celtics employee in a corridor before the Celtics-Pistons game.
“What’s going on?” I asked him casually, in the midst of a flurry of reports surrounding the Celtics’ interest in Rockets center Omer Asik.
“A lot less than you think,” he answered, with a grin across his face.
Sure enough, 24 hours later, multiple reports around the league confirmed that the Rockets have backed off a self-imposed deadline to deal Asik to the highest bidder on Thursday. Houston now plans to regroup and reintegrate the center into the lineup in hopes of finding a better trade offer down the line.
On Thursday the best compensation the Rockets had on the table for their veteran big man was reportedly a Celtics offer of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee, and a 2015 Clippers first round draft pick (acquired by Boston in the Doc Rivers deal). The Boston Herald reported that the Rockets had turned down that offer once last week, and it still wasn’t good enough for them yesterday.
It’s hard to tell whether Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s decision to walk away dealing Asik now is genuine or a short-term bluff. Morey values Asik highly though and isn’t going to swallow hard and settle for what he deems to be less than market value.
The Rockets were reportedly quibbling over just exactly what first round pick the C’s would include in a deal for Asik. The Rockets, understandably, wanted a 2014 draft pick, which the Celtics refused to include, opting to offer just the Clippers’ pick, widely expected to be one of the final few picks of the first round next year, given their loaded roster.
The breakdown of these negotiations now begs the question of whether Danny Ainge should have tried to bridge the compensation gap and meet Morey’s asking price for the Turkish big man.
Initially, there doesn’t appear to be a clear answer.
On one hand, as I wrote earlier this week, the idea of an Asik and Sullinger front line would be an incredibly appealing pairing. That’s as good of a duo as you are going to find to rebound the basketball in the frontcourt, and they would be an elite defensive pair as well. Seeing what Brad Stevens could have done defensively with a capable rim-protecting big man would have been very enticing.
Whether Asik would work well in Boston’s offense or not, given his limitations at that end of the floor, is one thing, but Boston would have a tough time acquiring a top-level big man like him in free agency. Asik is still relatively young (27), and although he’s signed for only one more season, Boston would have the inside track to re-sign him long-term if they wanted to, since they would have his bird rights.
Furthermore, Ainge would not have to commit major resources to Asik if he didn’t like the fit. No harm, no foul there.
Back to the trade offer, though: The demand of a 2014 first round pick would have been high, but that pick could easily be in the 20’s (assuming the Celtics would only agree to send the lower Hawks’ pick, acquired via the Nets summer deal). Additionally, dumping Courtney Lee’s long-term deal would have a been a major boon to Boston’s cap flexibility long-term, as he’s on the books through the 2015-16 season for an salary on average of $5.5 million each season. That’s a deal most teams around the league aren’t willing to take.
However, despite those positives, there was still an overlying concern here that probably trumped them all for Ainge.
The Celtics have no realistic chance of being a championship contender either this season or next. Knowing that, sacrificing any future asset of serious value (like any potential pick in a loaded 2014 NBA draft) is too much for the Celtics’ front office to swallow for a guy who may not have remained in Boston beyond the 2014-15 season. It was also a distinct possibility that the team would have no compensation to show for Asik leaving if he walked in free agency. That’s a scenario, as we saw with Kendrick Perkins in 2011, that Ainge never likes to face.
No matter how you slice it, you can’t argue with not wanting to sacrifice picks in a rebuilding situation, unless it helps you long-term. It’s unclear whether acquiring Asik would do that.
The fact also remains that Ainge could go into a full-fire sale mode with veterans like Bass, Lee, Kris Humphries, Jeff Green and company at any time. Acquiring Asik now may have limited Ainge’s options in that respect by forcing him to sacrifice some of those assets, and improving this team more than he wanted to for this season.
Ultimately, when it comes to this year, trade season has just begun. Trader Danny is in no rush to do anything yet. He’s content to let the market dictate where the best deals are and keep all of his options open. He’s not going to overpay for what he deems to be a player’s proper value either in a trade.
At the moment, that means no Asik in green, and given the Rockets’ asking price, I think that’s the right call by Ainge.