HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The Houston Rockets know how to throw one heck of a welcoming party.
We saw that last week when they officially announced the acquisition New York Knicks one-season wonder point guard Jeremy Lin, whose welcoming press conference was only missing the Rockets Power Dancers to complete the celebratory atmosphere. General manager Daryl Morey and owner Leslie Alexander both flew in from wherever they were to commemorate the return of Lin.
But that bubbly feeling was sucked out of the Toyota Center on Thursday when the Rockets officially introduced 7-foot center Omer Asik, whom Morey acquired Tuesday when the Chicago Bulls predictably declined to match the $25 million offer sheet on their backup in the post.
There was no Rockstar atmosphere, no Morey or Mr. Alexander flanked to either side of Asik as he sat on the podium looking more than a little uncomfortable. Instead Asik sat in between Rockets executive vice preside of basketball operations Sam Hinkie and his agent, Justin Zanik.
We could read far too much into the rather subdued introduction of the franchise’s first true center acquisition since Yao Ming retired last summer.
Maybe Morey and Alexander and even head coach Kevin McHale really had more pressing business to take care of rather than be on hand to introduce the man the organization just dropped a Lin-like contract that lasts for three years for $25 million with the similar $15 million poison pill payment in the final year. But there is the chance neither of them wanted to have to explain how the hunt to land a premiere center like Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum ended with one big drop off a consolation prize.
Even Hinkie at times sounded almost apologetic as he went out of his way to explain why the city should get behind a second-year NBA center from Turkey who is definitely defensive minded but lacks the offensive touch that warrants the type of money the Rockets are on the hook to pay him.
“We believe, and you will come to believe, that players like Omer are in short supply,” Hinkie said. “He’s an outstanding help defender, rim protector, he rebounds on both ends of the floor. He’s proven this throughout his career, at every stop and team after team.
“Young centers that are proven that they can impact an NBA game are scarce, really really scarce.”
The reality is the rebuilding Rockets needed a warm body in the post as it becomes more obvious with each passing day Howard won’t be walking through the door. Good big men are a premium in this league. This proves mediocre ones are, too.
Asik joins the Rockets after an interesting two years with the Chicago Bulls in which he toiled as a backup to Joakim Noah and was overshadowed by an extremely talented frontline. This past season, Asik averaged 3.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1 blocked shot and shot 51 percent from the free throw line in 14.7 minutes.
Those numbers should at least improve by the shear fact Asik will now be playing starters minutes. But the unknown is will the 26-year-old’s increased metrics result in wins for the Rockets?
“This is a big opportunity for me because I was playing limited minutes behind some really quality guys there,” said Asik, who has averaged just 2.9 points during his two-year NBA career. “This is going to be a little different for me, because I didn’t start much there. But I will be working real hard to try to adapt quickly.”
In fairness to Asik, he has been pretty good at things he does well. He is deceptively quick and that combined with his 7-foot-2 wingspan makes him one heck of a defender in the post and around the basket. He can rebound and if you are looking for one player who has played him to say something bad don’t hold your breath.
But the $25 million question is can he ever become a real offensive threat in the post? That’s high unlikely, but Asik seems determined to work at it.
“I believe I can do that by working hard every day,” he said. “I didn’t show too much because I wasn’t playing many minutes. I just do whatever they ask me.
“I’m sure if I get more minutes I can improve that.”