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With lower-than-expected salary cap, will Rockets and Pelicans still complete Omer Asik trade?

Jul 10, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT

Omer Asik, Tyler Zeller Omer Asik, Tyler Zeller

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has his hands full.

He must decide whether or not to match the Mavericks’ offer sheet for Parsons, convince Chris Bosh to accept less than a max contract and arrange trades for dump other players (including Jeremy Lin).

And he has fewer than 72 hours to do it.

I don’t want to pile on, but he might have one more responsibility that previously seemed completed: Trading Omer Asik.

Houston reportedly agreed before the draft to trade Asik to the Pelicans for a future first-round pick. The deal was slated to become official after the July moratorium, which ended last night.

At the time the trade was agreed upon, it wasn’t exactly clear how New Orleans would clear the cap space to absorb Asik, who has a cap number of $8,374,646. It seemed simple enough, though.

The Pelicans could waive the unguaranteed contracts of Melvin Ely and Luke Babbitt, use the stretch provision on Austin Rivers , Alexis Ajinca and Jeff Withey (even after his salary became $100,000 guaranteed July 6) and renounce all their free agents, and they’d have enough room based on the projected salary cap to take Asik – with $32,772 to spare below their post-trade team-salary limit ($100,00 above the salary cap).

Maybe New Orleans didn’t want to dump Rivers, Ajinca and Withey for no return. But the Pelicans could, theoretically, at least assure Houston they’d take such measures if no trades emerged.

However, the actual salary cap came in $135,000 lower than the projected salary cap. Suddenly, that $32,772 room for error is gone.

Now, that set of transactions leaves New Orleans $102,228 shy of having enough room for the trade.

Unless they stretch one of their top-five players – Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson – the Pelicans can’t unilaterally create enough cap space to trade a first-round pick for Asik.

Safe to say, they’re not stretching those valuable players. That means a New Orleans player must get added to the Houston trade or dealt elsewhere.

Trading one of the big five could clear room, but again, I can’t see the Pelicans going that route unless they had something lined up independent of the Asik trade.

Much more likely: New Orleans trades Ajinca or Rivers. Dumping either would clear enough room to add Asik.

Ajinca, due $981,084 next season, is a decent backup center. He averaged 5.9 points on 54.6 percent shooting and 4.9 rebounds in 17.0 minutes per game for the Pelicans last season.

Rivers has struggled to shoot efficiently in the NBA, but he was the No. 10 overall pick just two seasons ago. His 2014-15 salary is $2,439,840, and he has a $3,110,796 2015-16 team option that must be decided by Oct. 31.

These players are movable. It’s even possible New Orleans already has contingencies in place to complete the Asik trade.

But the NBA didn’t release the actual salary cap until yesterday, and the league’s estimates tend to be conservative. This is the rare official NBA cap estimate that overestimated reality. I’m not totally convinced the Pelicans and Rockets were ready for it.

At this point, dealing Ajinca or Rivers might be somewhat cumbersome. If teams know why New Orleans must shed salary – or even if they don’t – they might demand a second-round pick to take on Ajinca or Rivers. So many teams are trying to maximize cap space, even these small guaranteed salaries could get in the way.

Trading a first-rounder for Asik was already costly. If New Orleans must add another pick to dump Ajinca or Rivers, the value of the deal drops for the Pelicans.

A simple answer would be dealing Ajinca or Rivers to Houston as part of the Asik trade. But the Rockets are already likely asking Bosh to sacrifice salary. Adding another guaranteed salary would certainly reduce the effectiveness of trading Asik to trim salary, even if just a small amount.

When the margin for error is so slim, it’s easy to look back at previous moves and wonder what could have been.

Why did the Pelicans keep Withey past July 5? That triggered a $100,000 guarantee, and though that amount alone doesn’t alter the feasibility of the Asik trade, it’s a hindrance.

Why did New Orleans give Ajinca, who hadn’t played in the NBA in two years, a guaranteed two-season contract when signing him in December? If that second year were unguaranteed, a reasonable stipulation for a player of Ajinca’s caliber, this problem would have been avoided.

The Pelicans can’t undo these previous decisions, and they’ll have to deal with the fallout. But their problem is now Morey’s problem.

On the clock with Parsons, Morey must address this if he hasn’t already.

The Pelicans also face a time crunch to address this. Barring a much bigger move, they can’t feasibly trade for Asik after using the mid-level exception. That means free agents are picking other destinations as New Orleans handles this issue.

I still expect Asik will be traded to the Pelicans (though I wouldn’t be shocked if the deal falls apart). It will just be a little more complicated now.

However, I’m not sure those complications will be sorted out before Parsons’ deadline or before New Orleans’ top MLE target signs elsewhere.

  1. fiyeaglesfiy - Jul 10, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    If Pelicans are reluctant to include a 2nd round pick, Houston can move a 2nd rounder for a 3rd team to take on Rivers. Low risk/high reward player that can contribute off the bench. Shouldn’t be a tough sell, especially now that Lebron/Carmelo are (more or less) off the market. Houston was already getting a steal for getting a 1st rounder for a salary they had to dump.

    • elcapitan1019 - Jul 10, 2014 at 10:17 PM

      Howard often gets into foul trouble. So, who’s going to back him up now?? Asik is a very useful player, as he showed in the playoffs.

      • fiyeaglesfiy - Jul 11, 2014 at 9:01 AM

        Asik is a good player but he can’t play WITH Howard and there’s the issue. You can’t maximize your roster by paying $15mm to your backup center when the team has other needs (a stretch 4 that fits), or re-signing Chandler Parsons. They’ll find a reasonably priced replacement. Additionally, they’re getting a first rounder back for a guy that’s unhappy with his role and doesn’t want to be there and would likely leave next offseason.

  2. casualcommenter - Jul 10, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    I really don’t think trading away Austin Rivers will be that burdensome.

    He’s basically an expiring contract since his 2015-2016 salary is unguaranteed unless the team opts into it.
    He has a decent amount of upside as a former top-10 pick, and again, even if he falls flat on his face with a new team during offseason practices and preseason games, they can decide by October 31st to turn him into an expiring contract.

    Getting rid of a $2 million expiring contract shouldn’t be that costly. Maybe a future second round pick in like 2018.

  3. edavidberg - Jul 10, 2014 at 10:05 AM

    Morey has a lot of work to do the next couple days. It would be funny if it blew up in his face.

  4. loubearkane - Jul 10, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    That’s what you get Morey – Poison Pill

    • pglive21 - Jul 10, 2014 at 11:06 AM

      Except the poison pill contract has nothing to do with this situation. It’s Asik’s cap hit that’s the problem with the lowered overall team salary cap. The Pelicans already indicated that they’d be ok with paying Asik’s $15M+ salary this season by agreeing to the trade.

      • loubearkane - Jul 10, 2014 at 11:47 AM

        Which they currently can not fit under their cap due to how Morey constructed the contract.

      • louderthanwords1 - Jul 10, 2014 at 12:25 PM

        Loubearkane how would you have preferred the contract to be structured? His cap hit was the same all 3 seasons and the only thing that changed was how the money was paid out. In fact you can even argue that by structuring the deal the way Morey did it actually helped because rather than an 8,374,646 cap hit this yr if Morey had structured it as most contracts are with modest increases Asik’s cap hit would be higher this yr which would make him even harder to trade.

    • bougin89 - Jul 10, 2014 at 3:03 PM

      “Which they currently can not fit under their cap due to how Morey constructed the contract.”

      So if his cap hit was $15+ million he’d be easier to trade?

      • elcapitan1019 - Jul 10, 2014 at 10:20 PM

        I think loubearkane flunked math in school….

  5. jimb031 - Jul 10, 2014 at 10:31 AM

    I wouldn’t put it past them to stretch Gordon, but only as a last resort.

  6. campcouch - Jul 10, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    I know every GM/Owner tries whatever they can to improve their teams, but some guys get a little ahead of themselves. Houston seems to be the ones this season. The sudden exit from the playoffs seemed to shock them and now Morey’s going overboard to justify his moves with Lin,Harden and Howard. How about building on your current squad by adding better support. But now Asik is gone and Parsons is lingering in the hallway, Bosh may or may not come and so the potential for regression is possible. 72 hours are a mofo!

  7. rrhoe - Jul 10, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    For NO this is what’s called a “do over”,kill the deal,KEEP your draft pick,if the Sixers and Bucks were smart enough to want a “sweetener” for helping Houston dump salary then why not you. Asik will be a FA next year if you want to go that route but for Houston to want a pick from them was bad business to begin with.

  8. kujo37daggs - Jul 10, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    This is the best thing that could’ve happened to New Orleans. If Demps follows through with this deal, he’ll show the full extent of his stupidity. Drop it Dell, there are far better moves to be made.

    • jimb031 - Jul 10, 2014 at 11:58 AM

      Please enlighten us armchair gm. Why is this a bad move? And what are these far better moves to be made?

    • louderthanwords1 - Jul 10, 2014 at 12:14 PM

      If he doesn’t follow through with this deal do you honestly think any team will negotiate trades with Demps during the NBA moratorium on deals in the future? Reneging on a deal is a horrible way to do business.

  9. officialgame - Jul 10, 2014 at 1:47 PM

    Somebody needs to call Sam Hinkie.

  10. redbaronx - Jul 10, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    Dallas played their hand perfectly. Houston has to match or they risk losing Parsons, not getting Bosh, and taking a clear step BACKWARD. Since Bosh isn’t going to do anything within 72 hours unless LeBron makes his decision, it puts Houston in the position of sign Parsons, or lose Parsons and lose out on Free Agency like Dallas did a couple of years ago when they cleared space and missed out on FA’s.

  11. flyrocket31 - Jul 10, 2014 at 2:13 PM

    Rockets are buying time with “sign and trade talks” for parsons to hold out longer for bosh. good strategy!!

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