The Houston Rockets have abruptly ceased trade talks involving Omer Asik and now face the complicated task of trying to reintegrate the unhappy center into their frontcourt rotation, according to sources close to the process.
Sources told ESPN.com that the Rockets moved away from the negotiating table Thursday when it became apparent they wouldn't find a trade that matches their valuation of Asik before their self-imposed Dec. 19 deadline to move him.
"He's great for our team," guard James Harden said Thursday in reaction to the news that Asik was staying, according to the Houston Chronicle. "He's one of the best big men in the NBA, defensively as well. He complements our team so well. We're fortunate to have him on our team."
The reality is that the Rockets still have two months until the league's annual trade deadline Feb. 20 to find a palatable deal, so Asik's name will continue to be at the forefront of trade speculation until the deadline passes. Yet sources said Thursday there is growing pessimism within the Houston organization that it can construct a workable trade, given the resistance even interested teams have shown regarding the $15 million owed to Asik next season.
Realistically, Asik is only a $10 million a year center, a sum that's more in line with his reputation as an elite defensive anchor who possesses a limited offensive game. To lure Asik away from the Chicago Bulls in restricted free agency in 2012, Houston structured its offer sheet to the Turkish big man so that he would receive a whopping payout of $15 million in 2014-15, even though Asik counts against the salary cap for roughly $8.4 million.
Winning the Dwight Howard sweepstakes a year later has made Asik somewhat expendable in Houston, but finding a team prepared to trade for Asik and then pay him All-Star money next season has proved more difficult than the Rockets anticipated.
"I know he has had a rough time, but the only thing we can do as a team is continue to lift him up, continue to try to help him understand that he is a big part of the team," Howard said, according to the Chronicle. "I know he might not feel that way, but he is."
Sources say the best proposal they've received is the Boston Celtics' offer featuring reserves Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee and a future protected first-round pick. Sources say Houston couldn't bring itself Thursday to take that package for a player it regards as one of the league's best rim protectors, especially after the Rockets -- according to a Boston Herald report -- rejected the same offer last week.
It's believed the Rockets will now enlist the help of Asik's new agent, Arn Tellem, to try to assemble a trade construction that works because it's unlikely Asik is going to embrace the prospect of staying in Houston. Through previous agent Andy Miller, Asik began pushing to be dealt in July as soon as Howard arrived and has barely played since mid-November in the wake of his angry reaction to being dropped from the starting lineup. Asik also has been hampered by thigh and knee issues.
Chandler Parsons said the Rockets will push forward and carry on with the season as trade talks continue.
"We don't think about that when the ball goes up in the games, but it has definitely been a cloud over our team's head," Parsons said, according to the Chronicle. "We just want to have our final roster, and we want to go forward and get better with the guys we have. If Omer is here, that is great, and let's get to work and start playing together."
As ESPN.com reported Dec. 6, Rockets officials initially began telling other teams they were determined to trade Asik by Dec. 19 because Thursday was believed to be the last day any players involved in the trade could be repackaged with other players in subsequent trades this season before the annual trade deadline. The league office subsequently informed Houston that it could actually take until Friday of this week to move Asik and still be able to retrade anyone involved in the deal by Feb. 20, but the Rockets elected to end talks for now and try to regroup.
When news of Houston's intentions spread, it was widely assumed that the Rockets already had a trade in hand, most likely with Philadelphia and new Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie, who worked under general manager Daryl Morey with Houston before moving to the Eastern Conference in the offseason. But in addition to its stalled talks with Boston, Houston has thus far proved unable to get what it wants from Philadelphia, namely veteran center Spencer Hawes and a future first-round pick.
The Rockets would happily keep Asik to play behind Howard if the 27-year-old was willing to do so, believing there's a huge benefit to knowing that it can always put a topflight defensive anchor on the floor even when Howard is on the bench. But Asik's unhappiness is such an open secret that rival teams fully expect Houston to keep searching for a trade.
The immediate issue for the Rockets is how to get Asik back on the court contributing and how his teammates will react to the latest twist of a trade saga that has hung over the team for well over a month.
Asik started his first 90 games as a Rocket. But when the team decided it could no longer persist with both centers in the first five, Asik declared himself unavailable to play against the Knicks in New York on Nov. 14, snapping a streak of 239 consecutive games played in the regular season. Asik is averaging 18.3 minutes per game in 2013-14, down from last season's career high of 30.0, and just 4.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game compared to last season's career bests of 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds.