The Houston Rockets, as they've been telling teams all month, remain on course to trade disgruntled big man Omer Asik by Thursday, according to sources close to the process.
Numerous teams consulted by ESPN.com in recent days have said they are convinced the Rockets will indeed go ahead with a trade headlined by Asik before their self-imposed deadline of Dec. 19, with sources saying Tuesday that the Boston Celtics are increasingly active in the Asik talks.
As a result, the Celtics now are widely regarded as the strongest rivals to the Philadelphia 76ers in terms of the likely destination for Asik, with many rival executives expecting the final form of a trade built around the 7-footer from Turkey to feature at least three teams.
Sources have described the Atlanta Hawks as Houston's preferred trade partner because the Rockets came to the conclusion last month that, despite their attempts to placate Asik, they eventually would have to give in to the unhappy center's long-running desire to be moved in the wake of Dwight Howard's arrival in July. Yet it remains unclear, sources say, how interested Atlanta really is in parting with coveted forward Paul Millsap -- who's considered an ideal frontcourt complement to Howard -- in exchange for Asik.
Although sources say there has been dialogue between the Rockets and Hawks this week, it's believed that Atlanta officials are lukewarm on Asik. Asik is owed nearly $15 million next season thanks to a balloon payment in his contract that the Rockets inserted during the summer of 2012 to dissuade the Bulls from matching Houston's offer. Sources say, though, that such a high figure for a defensive specialist does not trouble the 76ers or Celtics, who have emerged as the two teams most frequently mentioned as landing spots for Asik.