To Match or Not to Match Houston’s Offer to Omer Asik
Less than a week after striking out and getting rejected by Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey has decided to settle for Bulls’ restricted free agent Omer Asik to fill their gaping hole at center. As everyone expected, the Rockets have offered Asik a heavily backloaded 3-year deal worth $24.3 million (about $14 million in the third year). Once July 11 hits, the Bulls will have three days to match that offer sheet, or else The Turkish Hammer will be taking his talents to H-Town. For months, Gar Forman has made it very clear that re-signing Asik is a priority and that all decisions made within the organization this summer will be basketball decisions, not financial decisions. That being said, matching this offer and re-signing him will be extremely difficult and will put us right up against the luxury-tax threshold –something that Jerry Reinsdorf has never felt comfortable with.
Blogabull.com crunched the salary numbers Saturday and determined that, if the Bulls are to re-sign Asik, they will be going well over the luxury tax, meaning that Watson, Brewer, Korver AND Lucas will almost certainly be gone in order to make things more affordable for the organization. They will have to find cheaper alternatives (Jimmy Butler is already one of them) to those players, as they’ll still have very little wiggle room with nearly $70 million tied into nine players (the luxury-tax threshold is expected to be around $70.3 million, according to ESPN capologist Larry Coon). The Bulls are in an incredibly difficult situation this summer — they’ll be treading water like a scared four-year old without inflatable armbands and scrambling to find cheap replacements (some of whom I wrote about last week, some of whom Nick Friedell touched on on Saturday). That’s why it’s hard to see them bringing Asik back even after Forman’s adamant statements about keeping him. They have limited flexiblity, if any, to work with before next season tips off. Keep in mind, though, that the luxury tax is put in place at the end of the regular season, which opens up the opportunity for a midseason trade to get the Bulls back under if need be.
By bringing back Asik for this price, the $14.09 million he’s set to make in the 2014-15 season will be added to the combined $47.7 million owed to Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah that season. That would be about $61 million tied into four players, which pretty much guarantees that the amnesty clause will be used on Boozer by 2014. Unfortunately, that’s an extra two years of potential frustration and bipolar conversations/debates about Boozer’s erratic play and mysterious hairline. The popular opinion amongst Bulls fans, including myself, is that we’d be better off amnestying Boozer now instead of two years from now. That way, the Bulls will be able to re-sign Asik, allow Taj Gibson to get more minutes and even audition for a starting gig before he’s up for an extension, and bring in some better free agents (either this year or next) to surround Rose with. But everyone knows by now that there’s no chance of that happening, and in life, we can’t always get what we want.
There’s no denying how phenomenal Omer Asik is on the defensive end of the court. If we don’t keep him, his 7’1″ presence will be severely missed. Take a look at the impact he made last season while anchoring the paint (according to Hardwood Paroxysm):
Of the Bulls’ top 50 most played 5-man lineups this past season (via NBA.com), Asik was in six of the top seven in points allowed per 100 possessions (pts/100). Without Asik on the court, Chicago allowed just 97.6 pts/100, which would have place 5th in the league over the course of a full season. But when Asik was on the court, that number dropped all the way down to 89.7 pts/100, which would have led the league 5.6 pts/100. He ranked in the 96th percentile in individual points allowed per possession, via mySynergySports, as well as 84th percentile against pick-and-roll ball-handlers and 77th percentile against isolations. (h/t Matt Moore) He’s an elite rebounder (h/t Zach Lowe), an excellent help defender and a good shot-blocker.
Take that all in for a second and think about this: the Bulls were a ridiculous eight points better defensively with Asik on the court. But as great as that sounds, we all know about the train wreck that is Asik’s offense. He has bricks for hands, has absolutely no range outside of an inch from the basket (meaning he can’t do anything but dunk), and watching him shoot free throws is more painful than jamming a finger or stubbing a toe. Asik may be as valuable to the Bulls’ defense as anyone (especially the second unit), but I’m not convinced that matching this fat offer would be the smartest decision. NBA players (especially centers) get overpaid all the time — I know that. But given the situation the Bulls are in, someone who has literally no offensive ability whatsoever, regardless of how good he is defensively, doesn’t deserve a contract that averages $4 million per year, let alone $8 million. I fully expect the Bulls to immediately start negotiating a sign-and-trade with Houston if they feel they can’t match this offer in order to get something in return for Asik’s services. It may sound unrealistic if Asik and/or the Rockets are unwilling to work out a new contract, but it’s definitely a possibility.
As much as I like Asik and would be devastated to see him go, I don’t think this deal is worth it. His future his bright, and he will continue to improve, but to pay a backup center an average of $8 million a year who only played 14.7 minutes per game last season is just too much. Big men are always tough to find, and this summer is no exception. The best low-cost options are guys like Joel Przybilla, Rony Turiaf, Troy Murphy, Nazr Mohammed, Greg Stiemsma, and Eddy Curry (just kidding, chill out), among many others (I’m not sure what kind of money Marcus Camby will demand, but he’s an unrestricted free agent as well). As unappealing as that list is, the Bulls would have to bring in someone cheap to fill the 5-spot in the second unit, plus they’ll have the money not used on Asik (about $5 million next year) to bring in whomever else (or bring back Watson/Korver) they feel will help keep this team afloat until Rose and Deng (Thibs actually said Deng won’t have wrist surgery and will be ready to go by training camp, so who knows with him) come back. It’s not ideal, that’s for sure, but we have to believe that Thibs and his hardworking mentality will find a way to make it work. Over the next week and a half or so, we’ll see how madly in love Gar Forman and John Paxson still are with Omer Asik.