How Omer Asik’s Backloaded Deal Affects Trades

November 15 2013 at 6:27pm CST By Chuck Myron

The Rockets have reportedly engaged other teams in trade talks about Omer Asik, and even though a trade doesn’t appear to be imminent, his name figures to surface quite often in rumors this season. The pairing of Asik and Dwight Howard together on the court hasn’t been successful so far, and relegating Asik to playing backup to a superstar who’ll likely average around 36 minutes a game seems a waste when the Rockets have needs at other positions.

Asik is on Houston’s books for $8,374,646 this year and next — not at all an inflated amount for a top-shelf interior defender. The problem is that his actual salaries are quite different from his cap hits, thanks to the terms of the Gilbert Arenas Provision which the Rockets used to snatch him from the Bulls in 2012. Houston backloaded Asik’s contract to dissuade Chicago from matching the offer for the restricted free agent. The Arenas rule allowed the Rockets to spread the cap hit for the steep third-season raise in Asik’s deal over all three years of the contract. If the Bulls matched, Chicago would have had to carry cap hits that reflected each season’s actual payout. Asik is pocketing just $5.225MM this season, but he gets $14,898,938 in 2014/15.

Next season’s actual salary will likely put Asik among the top 25 highest-paid players in the league, even though his cap hit will be significantly less, regardless of whether he’s playing for the Rockets or another NBA team. Some owners might welcome the chance to acquire a player with a reasonable salary cap hit even though the actual payout is much more expensive, but, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe has written, many are wary taking on the balloon payment for either Asik or Jeremy Lin, who has a contract with precisely the same terms.

Asik doesn’t have the resume of a top-25 player, but he nonetheless had a drastic effect on Houston’s defense last season. The Rockets gave up 107.0 points per 100 possessions when he was on the bench in 2012/13, but just 101.3 when he was playing, per NBA.com. His actual pay next season will be exactly the amount of money former All-Star Roy Hibbert will earn with the Pacers in 2014/15. Hibbert’s superior block totals from last year indicate that he’s better at basket protection, and he averaged more points per game. Still, Asik took far fewer shots and was much more accurate, and he outrebounded Hibbert by 3.4 boards per game in similar minutes. Asik might not be a top-25 player in the NBA, but his statistical record holds it own against that of a player the small-market Pacers were willing to pay at an elite level.

The 27-year-old from Turkey might be worth a salary at or near the one he’ll see next season, but he won’t be quite the bargain his cap hit for 2014/15 would suggest. Teams will consider any trade for Asik knowing he’s due for a nearly 300% raise. Acquiring him and his $5.225MM salary this year would help ease that burden, but it still works out to an average annual value of around $10MM for whatever team is willing to trade for him, much more than his cap hit will be in either season. It will be interesting to see if a team with financial muscle but limited cap flexibility takes advantage of his reduced cap number, or if a low-revenue team swallows hard and prepares for a nearly $15MM payout next year.

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