A year ago, Omer Asik was coming off two seasons in Chicago in which he averaged 2.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, a .529 FG%, and a 12.6 PER in 13.2 minutes per game. Despite the pedesterian numbers, Asik was considered a big man with upside, and earned a three-year, $25MM contract from the Rockets. He lived up to that $8.3MM annual salary in his first season in Houston, starting all 82 games and averaging a double-double.
Timofey Mozgov isn't exactly the same type of player as Asik, but there are certainly plenty of similarities between the two bigs. Mozgov was considered a crucial piece in the blockbuster trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York two seasons ago, but with JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos ahead of him in the Nuggets' rotation, Mozgov hasn't seen a whole lot of playing time over the last two years. Since the start of the 2011/12 season, Mozgov's averages look similar to Asik's in Chicago: 4.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, a .520 FG%, and a 12.9 PER in 12.3 MPG.
Like Asik a year ago, Mozgov will be eligible for restricted free agency this summer. While it was a no-brainer for the Bulls to extend a qualifying offer to Asik to ensure they could match rival offers (even though the team ultimately decided not to match Houston's offer), that's not necessarily the case for the Nuggets and Mozgov. At least one report has suggested Mozgov will receive a qualifying offer from Denver, but that was met with some skepticism from at least one reporter, and it's not hard to see why.
Assuming Andre Iguodala opts out of his 2013/14 contract in search of a long-term deal, the Nuggets will still have approximately $52MM in guaranteed money on their books before attempting to negotiate new contracts for Iguodala and Corey Brewer. If the team hopes to bring back both players, or even just Iguodala, it's unclear if Mozgov's $3.93MM qualifying offer will be an affordable expense for a team that figures to steer clear of the luxury tax.
Still, the Nuggets have shown they're willing to pay big bucks to a player who essentially amounts to a backup center (McGee). Perhaps the risk of Mogov accepting that $3.93MM qualifying offer will be outweighed by the desire to keep a valuable asset under team control. After all, based on the amount of interest reported in Mozgov at the trade deadline, it seems there will be plenty of suitors for the big man, both this summer and perhaps in a trade at next year's deadline.
The list of potential suitors for Mozgov figures to include his old team, as the Knicks' interest was reported both before and after the trade deadline. The Timberwolves also reportedly made a play for Mozgov, with the Bobcats and Heat making inquiries as well. Not all of those clubs will be able to make big offers for the Russian this summer — New York and Miami, for instance, will both be taxpayers, meaning the mini mid-level exception (up to three years and $9.98MM) will be the most they can offer, and that's assuming they make Mozgov their top free agent priority, which may be unlikely.
For a team like the Bobcats though, pursuing a player such as Mozgov would make a lot of sense. Charlotte has plenty of cap space at its disposal, but is unlikely to be in the mix for any premier free agents, based on the team's record and history. So why not make a play for a young big man with upside like Mozgov? The bidding for the Nuggets center probably won't reach Asik territory, meaning an offer like the one the Hornets gave Robin Lopez last season (three years, $15.36MM) might be enough to get something done, and avoid the Nuggets matching. In that scenario, Mozgov would get some long-term security and a nice payday, while the Bobcats (or a similar lottery-bound team with cap room) would get the chance to roll the dice on a player who could thrive with more playing time. And at that price, the contract wouldn't become too toxic an asset even if Mozgov struggled.
It's hard to get a strong read on Mozgov's free agent value, given how little we've seen of him on the court in the NBA. I don't expect him to be quite the prize that Asik was last year, but if Mozgov receives an offer that seems disproportionate to his career production, we shouldn't be surprised. The 26-year-old didn't get a real chance to shine in Denver, but a player with his combination of size and promise won't go unnoticed on the open market.