Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has his hands full.
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
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.
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.