- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Would you pay Omer Asik almost $25 million over the next three seasons?
No, you probably wouldn't. And neither would I. But it sounds like the Chicago Bulls will. While the organization hasn't stated publicly whether it will match the offer sheet the Houston Rockets gave Asik, the general sense I've gotten is that the Bulls will bite the bullet and match the offer.
When I asked coach Tom Thibodeau in Las Vegas if he had considered the possibility of losing Asik, his answer offered a clue about the Bulls’ next potential move.
"We're not going to look at things that way," Thibodeau said. "To me, it's all part of the game. We'll see how it unfolds. You can only control the things that you can control, so for us, the guys that we do have, they're in every day, they're working hard, getting ready for next year, and that's the way we're going to look at it."
It would hurt Thibodeau if the Bulls decided not to match the offer. Asik is the Bulls' best interior defender, and Thibodeau still believes the young center can get a lot better. The Bulls have invested several years into Asik's development, and they don't want to see the Rockets bear the fruit of the time they've already put in. Plus, the Bulls didn't get much of a chance to work with Asik last summer given his commitments to Turkey for the European Championships and the fact that there was an NBA lockout at the time which precluded players and coaches from working together.
The Bulls would absolutely be overpaying to keep Asik, especially given the almost $15 million cap hit which comes along in the third year of the deal. But there aren't a lot of young big men out there to replace him. If the Bulls don't match Asik's offer, as general manager Gar Forman has implied they would do all along, there would be plenty of teams waiting (in this case Houston) to give him a chance to shine with more minutes.
With the uncertainty surrounding Joakim Noah's health over the past few seasons, Thibodeau surely isn't the only one pushing Forman to match the offer. Asik is a defensive security blanket. He is durable, he has a comfort level playing alongside Taj Gibson off the bench, and he already has become one of the better defenders in the NBA. If the Bulls lose Noah for an extended amount of time and don't match the offer sheet for Asik, they will have to play very small or be forced to use either a veteran big man or a little-used youngster to bridge the gap. Given how much of Thibodeau's system is dependent upon defensive presence and intensity, this seems like an extremely scary proposition.
But I still wouldn't match the offer sheet. If you're paying Asik almost $25 million over three years, you need to be able to count on him for something more than just one skill. Asik regressed badly on offense last season. He struggled to catch the ball in the paint and looked very unsure of himself there. He also looked gassed after 20-25 minutes on the floor. Granted, the lockout-shortened schedule meant that there wasn't a lot of practice time for Bulls coaches to work with Asik, but they still put in time with him. For the past two seasons they have wheeled out a machine which fires tennis balls at Asik on the side of the Berto Center hoping it will help him with his hand-eye coordination.
None of it worked last season. His defense was still strong, but his offense left plenty to be desired. He will continue to improve, after all this will be just his third NBA season, but when a team pays a player that kind of money they have to get more. If the Bulls match the offer and hang on to Asik for the next few years, it will significantly hamper their ability to go after another game-breaking scorer to play alongside Rose in two years, the same year Luol Deng's contract comes off the books and Carlos Boozer likely will be amnestied. If the Bulls could match the offer knowing they could unload Asik before the final year, then it becomes much more palatable. But it's hard to imagine any team would take the bait of having Asik in the final year with a $15 million hit on their books.
As much as it may pain Thibodeau to consider, the Bulls should let Asik go to Houston. The Bulls will take a hit in the short term. But in the long term, it will give them a better chance to land the type of scorer they will need to beat the Miami Heat. Asik is a difference maker defensively, but not enough to cripple their salary cap space two years from now.
59mMatt Walks, ESPN.com
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